A host of therapies are available for people with autism, and music is one that is gaining attention. Used as a complementary therapy to early educational intervention, it can be a valuable tool in advancing the skills and decreasing the isolation of the autistic child.

Autism educators assert that using music can help children improve in many areas, including speech, language comprehension, social behaviors, rhythm, number skills, and motor skills. Music appears to engage multiple areas of the brain simultaneously—areas that are necessary for certain activities. When a trained therapist uses tunes and rhythms to entice a child to perform a certain behavior or take part in an activity, that child ideally will be able to continue the behavior or activity even after musical cues fade.

What to Expect in a Music Therapy Session

A music therapist does not simply turn on the radio and hope for the best. She will attempt to find a musical style that each individual with autism responds to. She may tell a child, "It's time to work on writing letters," but she will sing it in a rhythmic pattern that stimulates the child to improve.

While formal studies of autism and music therapy are few and far between, those that have been published have found an association between music therapy and improvement in skills. A 2006 Norwegian overview of several small studies indicated that music therapy definitely helped autistic individuals with regard to their verbal and nonverbal (gestural) communication. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy also results in more focused attention and less agitation.

Emotional Benefits of Music Therapy

One interesting discovery to come out of recent research is that autistic individuals generally are able to perceive "happy" and "sad" music, just like the rest of the population. An upbeat, peppy song generates positive emotions while a haunting melody evokes melancholy. As people with autism generally have difficulty perceiving emotions in others and expressing their own emotions, using music may unlock this ability and allow autistic individuals a measure of social and emotional understanding. This ability to communicate and perceive feelings represents a great step forward toward functioning normally.




American Music Therapy Association. "Autism Spectrum Disorders: Music Therapy Research and Evidence Based Practice Support." Web. http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/bib_autism10.pdf

Autism Society. "Related Approaches." Web.

National Institutes of Health. "Music Therapy For Autistic Spectrum Disorder." Web. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16625601

National Institutes of Health. "Autism, Emotion Recognition and the Mirror Neuron System: The Case of Music." Web.