Musical therapy is gaining acceptance in the field of treatments for autism. Individuals on the autism-spectrum who receive music therapy will often have improvement in overall temperament and learning abilities. I recently saw a young boy who loved the Beatles. Hearing their music has helped with his behavior and willingness to communicate. Other individuals have responded in similar ways to other types of music. Music makes connections to the non-verbal part of our brain making it a perfect therapy for disorders in which the person has trouble communicating. This is why it is a perfect fit for autism.
Music therapy has been used in conjunction to help with learning skills. Classical music often playing in the background has been shown to help with mental processing for math and complex problems, but more importantly in autism music in general provides a non-threatening medium for people while playing games that help to improve social and behavior skills. For example, by encouraging eye contact while singing or using musical instruments that need to be held close to the face musical therapy can help autistic individuals break social barriers. In short, music is fun and engaging.
The main thing that music therapy has been shown to help with is the development of speech and communication skills. Music has the ability to connect the verbal and non-verbal functions in the brain. This is critical in autism as speech difficulties are so significant. In the beginning certain individuals may be only able to hum, grunt or make non-word noises while others will babble phrases of verses. The little boy who was a Beatles fan learned to pronounce the famous line “we all live in a Yellow Submarine…” Autistic individuals will often gain the capability to put phrases and sentences together in attempts to communicate with other people. No matter how skilled the individual is with speech, they can participate in musical therapy by clapping to the beat of the song, humming along, or doing simple echoing sounds. It doesn’t really matter just getting them involved in music can make powerful transformations.
Individuals on the autism spectrum are commonly found to be good at music. Some people have perfect pitch, while others may play a particular instrument very well. Even if they show no genius musical ability by common standards you may find that a particularly person has abilities in music that exceed his or her other abilities. A musical therapist can use music as a way to link this kind of learning with other kinds of learning skills such as communicating emotions or improving memory. Trained professionals can use music to teach children and others how to communicate in nonverbal ways, making it easier for patients to learn.
However, music doesn’t need to be reserved for a therapy or a classroom setting. Play music in the home and/or car as a way to introduce new sounds, instruments, and voices into the auditory world for an autistic individual. Break out those Beatles albums and you never know what might emerge for a person on the spectrum. They too may find their favorite Beatles song and learn to sign and communicate in a way they never have before.
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