Move to the Music: Autism Sees Benefits of Dance Therapy

Dancer in Blue

Dance is an amazing therapy style that has benefited all, from the obese children to those with autism. It makes us get up, move the body, enjoy the exercise and make new friends. Dances have long been the medium for human relationships, from the classic waltz to the modern hip-hop and R&B.

For years, dance became my own personal therapy, from bollywood to belly-dancing. It was practiced in the safe cloister of my home, my basement or my little pink room, before a mirror and often without. I would dance on roller blades, pretend I would figure skate, and, to this day, get up and dance during musicals. Bollywood movies particularly get my blood pumping. I made myself stronger, more graceful, more confident in my own self, and, most of all, I taught myself to forget the day's worries, throw my head back and just have fun.

Of course, dance didn't just make itself the perfect therapy for me. It has helped many across the board, including the autistic populations.


Autism and Dance Therapy
Autism in itself is an interesting disorder, but one which could become disruptive within an ordinary day's routines. It is a genetic disorder which is often accentuated by environmental factors, including air pollution found in the larger cities. Considering autistic individuals exercise the least among the disorders, taking part in dance for its therapeutical aspects might be a great idea.

The February 2014 issue of the Autism Journal included a research project wherein 31 young adults with autism spectrum disorder (mainly high-functioning and Asperger's syndrome) were studied as they were put through a dance movement therapy intervention with the aim to increase body awareness, social skills, self-other distinction, empathy, and well-being. An improvement in all of these elements was found after a 7 week program, wherein they went in for therapy for an hour once every week. Of course, the sample in itself is not a large one, but it is interesting to note that the physical activity which can bring out so much joy in a given populace can also be used to control certain behaviors which are magnified within those diagnosed to be on the spectrum.

How exactly does one teach an autistic individual to dance when they are entirely out of sync? In the Frontiers of Integrative Neuroscience, it is suggested that investigating approaches such as scaffolding interactions via rhythm, following the person's lead, slowing the pace, discriminating between intentional communication and "stray" motor patterns, and organizing information through one sensory mode at a time would be most beneficial. After all, the autistic brain fires at rather crazy rates, never really resting, constantly on the move. Of course, this structure of the mind might be the cause of the comorbid ADHD, though it has yet to be proven concretely.

Dance Benefits in General
Another reporter working for EmaxHealth has mentioned multiple benefits to dancing in her previous articles. These include:

  • A study from Albert Einstein College of Medicine which studied 469 people either aged 75 or older found that ballroom dancing was associated with a lowered risk of dementia.
  • A review conducted at AUT University in New Zealand found that older adults can significantly improve their aerobic ability, lower body muscle endurance, strength, balance, agility, and gait through dancing.
  • All dances raise the heart rate through movement, tones and tightens the major muscle groups of the body, improves stamina, and can burn between 300-500 calories an hour.

Combining Music and Dance for Autism
Whereas dance in itself is extremely beneficial, it might be a good idea to also include music in the mix. Autistic individuals are often musical savants as well, with their incredible memories when it comes to pitch and notes. One particular study mentioned in the previous article mentioned research on musically untrained autistic children between the ages of 7 and 13. Both short- and long-term memory were tested, and it was found that those on the spectrum demonstrated much better pitch discrimination abilities in such a way that could understand and point out the correct tune in everything from a single note to a whole song, as well as showing superior long-term memory for melody. They are also known for being pitch perfect in memory.