Many parents of autistic children swear that musical therapy greatly helps autistic children, even if there aren’t a lot of scientific studies that show music therapy programs are effective. This is largely because such studies are hard to do. However, studies and anecdotal evidence do show that autistic children respond positively to music, so believing that autistic children benefit from music activities isn’t much of a stretch.
Because of the positive experiences of many parents with autistic children to music activities, these activities are now a core part of many programs for autistic children. In this post I’ll talk about some of the benefits found by parents and autism professionals from music programs, and things to keep in mind when deciding on appropriate music activities for a child with autism.
Benefits of Music Activities
Parents and autism professionals have observed the following benefits of music activities for children with autism.
1. For high-functioning autistics, music provides a creative outlet and promotes relaxation.
As I discussed in another post, research shows that autistic brains are organized to love recognizing patterns. Music is full of patterns. Autistic brains also experience sounds differently from non-autistics so this might be another reason why music affects them so powerfully
2. Music is a nonverbal communication method.
Music is an especially good communication method for autistic children because autistic children tend to have difficulty communicating using words and gestures. Famed autistic Temple Grandin attempts to describe how such speech difficulties feel in a way that non-autistics might be able to understand in another post I did about her.
3. Autistics are commonly observed to have notable musical abilities, making music activities particularly enjoyable to them (we always like things we’re good at!)
One music teacher quoted in the Washington Post article who works with autistic kids thinks that this may be because they are very sensitive to sounds and enjoy creating patterns, which is backed up by recent brain imaging research.
Things to Keep in Mind
This doesn’t mean that pushing an autistic child into any music activity will work. Different autistic children have sensitivities to different types of sounds. For example, one autism services director says that some children may be sensitive to specific instruments or specific musical frequencies. The best way to determine which musical activities suit your autistic child is to gradually ease him into musical activities while paying attention to what types of activities don’t suit him. Also, different autistic children might have difficulties with different aspects of music, as Temple Grandin describes about her difficulty understanding musical rhythm.