More parents and teachers of special needs children are starting to realize the remarkable connection between music and autism. Research has shown that when autistic children interact with music on a regular basis, their behavior and communication skills improve.
Keep reading to learn about how music affects autism, and how your special needs child can begin experiencing the benefits of music today.
Quick Facts About Autism
- Autism is a developmental disorder that negatively affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with other people.
- Symptoms of the mental condition, which begin to appear in children ages 2-3, can be reduced but not entirely cured.
- Each child diagnosed with autism faces a spectrum of his or her own individual challenges.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that autism occurs in approximately one in 68 children in the United States.
The Surprising Connection Between Music and Autism
In the first reports of autism dating back to 1943, there are multiple references to autistic children’s musical ability and interest. Since then, dozens of studies have been conducted that clearly show a strong tie between music and autism.
Although individuals with autism are slower to develop verbal communication skills, evidence suggests that they are actually able to process and understand music just as good if not better than their peers.
Specifically, autistic children have demonstrated advanced abilities in pitch categorization, memorization of melodies, and labeling of emotions in music.
Take 13 year old Jewels, for example. At three years old, Jewels was unable to speak or move his fingers. But with the help of music therapy sessions, he is now a talented pianist. Check out the video of Jewels below.
Playing the piano wasn’t just a fun hobby for Jewels; it helped improve his behavior and develop fine motor skills. Learning to play an instrument can have numerous benefits like these for autistic children.
The Benefits of Music for Autism
The struggle of trying to communicate with an autistic child can weigh heavily on any parent or caregiver, but incorporating music into the child’s routine presents a ray of hope.
Music interventions have been found to improve speech output among individuals with autism in the areas of vocalization, verbalization, and vocabulary. Singing can be especially helpful for teaching autistic children to effectively express their emotions.
A 2009 study showed that during play sessions with music, children with autism were more socially engaged with their peers than in sessions without music. Music encouraged the children with autism to interact in more appropriate ways with other children, including sharing and taking turns.
Music can also be an avenue to improving an autistic child’s behavior by helping them learn to follow directions. A recent study found that music connects the auditory and motor parts of the brain. This helps autistic children better understand and obey verbal commands.
In another study of 41 children over a 10-month period, music therapy helped decrease negative behaviors such as aggression and tantrums.
Teachers of autistic children often take advantage of the benefits of music for improving cognitive development. Music’s rhythmic patterns provide a structured way for autistic children to organize auditory information.
This makes music a very helpful tool for memorization and learning daily routines. With repetitive training, music can also help improve a child’s attention span.
Autistic children are more likely to experience anxiety than the average child. Introducing music into their routine helps increase their tolerance for frustration and decrease anxious behaviors. The repetitive and predictable rhythms of classical music are particularly beneficial for relieving anxiety.
Introducing an Autistic Child to Music
There are a couple different ways to introduce your child to the benefits of music for autism. Music therapy is one potential route.
The American Music Therapy Association defines this practice as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”
Music therapy is similar to physical therapy in the sense that a therapist will assess the individual and provide a unique treatment plan based on his or her needs. You can easily search online for a Board Certified music therapist in your area.
An alternative and often less expensive option is to sign your child up for private, in-home music lessons. With a tool like TakeLessons, it isn’t hard to find a qualified teacher who has experience working with special needs students.
Keep in mind that either option works best when done repeatedly, over longer periods of time. Overall, the evidence supports that making music a consistent part of your child’s routine will not only be an enjoyable activity, but a key to unlocking their full potential.