Music and Autism

Music for Children with Autism


At The Motivational Edge, we understand how music is used as a therapeutic tool for children and young adults who exhibit developmental disabilities or behavior/communication disorders. One main focus is music and autism. There are many benefits to using music with people of all ages who suffer from autism. One of these benefits is that music provides the structured regularity that children with autism need.  We realize that it is possible to expand each individual’s range of functioning.  Depending on the child’s level on the autism scale, researchers find that music assists with communication in different ways.

For the child at the severe end of the spectrum, music is often the means of communication.  Often, as one starts a music session for children at this portion of the spectrum, the excitement and pleasure of music is clearly visible.
For the moderately involved child, music can serve as a carrier signal for verbal communication.  Many times, music gives these children a means to express what they already have inside of them.  Music gives children a chance to share what they already know; but just haven’t been able to express it.

For the child with high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome, music can serve to organize the verbal communication skills that already exist.  Many children on this spectrum have limited verbal communication skills which have to be fine tuned.  We worked with one student in particular that couldn’t look anyone in the eyes when being introduced or hold a simple conversation. Within weeks, his piano lessons and the routines set forth by his instructor helped him dramatically. The student was reintroducing himself and proud to be able to do so. The gains were astonishing in the little time we spent with this student.

Are Groups Important?
Yes, extremely important. When possible, we work with children in groups.  Children can learn many things from interacting with music and each other.  This type of setting increases the development of verbal and non-verbal communication.  Music can also be used to organize children’s behavior in various ways.  One way to do this is by having children walk in a circle or simply move to a musical rhythm.  It is very important to remember that you must keep each child stimulated all of the time.  In a general education setting, often times you will see children sitting in a circle waiting to get their turn to play an instrument or simply listening to music and not able to move.  When autistic children are not engaged, they will become disorganized and create self-stimulation, in turn, losing all interest in the lesson at hand. We understand the importance of maximum engagement in order to create maximum gains, which can only be done with the help of other instructors or support staff.

Physiological Benefit
In addition to its educational value, music for children with autism has a physiological benefit.  A research study done by a neurologist, who is also a musician, at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts showed a physical change in the brain structure in people who started music training at an early age.  It was found that a bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum, which functions in carrying signals between the two brain hemispheres, is about 12 percent thicker among keyboard players who started training before the age of 7, compared to keyboard players trained later, or to non-musicians (Schlaug, Jäncke, Huang, Stagier, & Steinmetz, 1995).