Music Therapy For Autism – Give Your Special Child a Voice
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Raising a child with autism takes patience, resolve and understanding. And sometimes that isn’t enough. While you can learn to deal with your special child’s meltdowns and sensory sensitivity, there’s a part of you that will always be looking for ways to bond with your little one. But the reality is that as much as you may want to know what’s really on your child’s mind, autism often gets in in the way of heart-to-hearts and hugs.
While there is no easy way to bypass the complexity of a condition like autism, music therapy has proven to be a useful way to connect and help special children. And what better way to give your child a voice than with the universal language of music, powerful enough to transcend everything from emotional overwhelm to complex social interactions. Music therapy can help build your child’s self-confidence and communication skills. It has even been found to lower anxiety.
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy uses different types of music-related activities to help people with autism and special needs. With music therapy, autism traits such as anxiety, communication issues, impaired cognitive functioning, and behavioral issues can be improved. Therapy usually consists of singing, songwriting, listening to and playing instruments, and even composition. Another type of therapy uses music to assist with guided imagery.
Does Music Therapy For Autism Work?
Yes, research has confirmed that a high level of engagement between the therapist and clients with autism showed improvement in language, social communication, anxiety, emotional regulation, and other areas revolving around quality of life. When researched as a cure, results were poor but when functional gains were monitored definite improvements were apparent.
The Benefits of Music Therapy For Autism
What sets music therapy apart from all other therapy types is that it acts as a non-threatening communicative bridge between a child and their environment. It is also a highly motivating medium and can be used as a natural reinforcer to achieve specific results. This form of therapy has been found to have unique outcomes often unachievable with other types of therapy.
For many, music therapy can seem like an unconventional approach at first. But before you dismiss this as a viable option for your little one, we’ve put together some of the most compelling research on the topic.
1. Music Therapy for autism can improve your child’s social interaction
There is extensive research which suggests that children with autism are more socially engaged and emotionally expressive when exposed to music therapy. The same research also found that children are more willing to respond to a therapist’s demands when exposed to music.
How you can improve social interaction using music:
You could encourage your child to share or pass you musical instruments as a way to encourage interaction and build social skills. You could turn this into a fun game that develops these skills. Another way to encourage interaction is through song. You can teach your child a song and then sing it together.
2. Music Therapy for autism can improve your child’s focus
A study of 41 children with autism over a 10-month period, found that hour-long music therapy sessions for autism once a week improved the children’s ability to focus. Other behavior that improved included restlessness, aggression, and noisiness. The children’s behavior was checked using a checklist, and after the therapy sessions, it was found that the behavior of more than half of the group improved by at least two points.
How you can improve focus using music:
A fun way to improve your child’s memory and focus is by playing music and making hand gestures to the beat of the music. You would then encourage your child to mimic your gestures. If you’re concerned about sensory overload, you can skip the music and simply create clap patterns for your child to copy. This could include a simple clap-pause-clap-clap-pause rhythm. The trick is to start with a simple pattern and gradually increase the difficulty once your child has mastered it.
3. Music Therapy for autism can improve your child’s ability to communicate
Music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain and is therefore very effective when it comes to stimulating cognitive functioning in a child with autism. This includes speech and other language skills. In fact, research suggests that music can engage parts of the brain related to the human mirror neuron system. This can affect a child’s ability to communicate and respond to others. The research found that music can be used to connect auditory and motor sections of the brain. In this way, the parts of a child’s brain needed for communication are strengthened and reinforced.
How you can improve your child’s ability to communicate using music:
Singing is one of the best ways to improve communication. Start off with simple songs and gradually increase sentence length, speed, and pitch. It’s a good idea to pick songs your child is familiar with. You can also try engaging your child in a ‘musical conversation’ where you sing something like: What color is this? You would then prompt your child to respond with a song.
4. Music Therapy for autism can improve your child’s literacy
Research suggests that using musical cueing, you can improve a child with autism’s ability to recognize words. There is also evidence that indicates that pairing reading and song rehearsal from song sheets is far more effective at improving literacy than other forms of learning. Musical activities can also be an effective way to build a child’s vocabulary as music is such a powerful reinforcer.
How you can improve your child’s literacy using music:
A great way to develop your child’s vocabulary is to select a simple song that focuses on one topic like Christmas, for example. Be sure to emphasize the words you want your child to remember. Once your little one is familiar with the song, you would prompt your child by singing something like this: It’s almost Christmas time. I can’t wait for… The idea is that your child would then respond with a list of words the song focused on.
Have you ever taken your special child to music therapy? What was it like? Share your experience in the comments below.
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