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Using Musical Therapy to Treat Autism

Treating Autism with Musical Therapy

Music has some amazing curative capabilities that happen to be backed by science. Given this, it isn’t surprising that using music as a treatment therapy would be beneficial to an individual on the Autism Spectrum. Music Therapy is a “well-established and risk-free technique” for using musical interaction to help individuals with Autism improve their ability to function.


It is found that by simply interacting with adults and children on the Autism Spectrum, Musical Therapists can “build skills, lower anxiety, and even develop new communication skills.”

So, What Exactly is Music Therapy?

Per MusicTherapy.org, “Music Therapy for Autism (MTfA) is 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.” MTfA is also a “well-established allied health profession that uses music therapeutically to address behavioral, social, psychological, communicative, physical, sensory motor, and/or cognitive functioning.” It is suggested, and I have witnessed firsthand that Music Therapy can be extremely powerful. It is a prevailing and non-threatening medium, and because of this- numerous unique outcomes are found to be possible.

Musical Therapy isn’t just a one-up way of conducting therapy, as conventional talk therapy can be. It is creative and fun. To this respect, MTfA can be performed in a wide range of fashions. This may include the use of “behavioral, biomedical, developmental, educational, humanistic, adaptive musical instruction, and/or other models” in which to teach. Not only this, it is well researched and noted that Musical Therapy enhances one’s quality of life.

MTfA does this by involving relationships between a qualified Music Therapist and the Autistic individual alongside his/her family. It also does this by connecting the use of music and the needs of the participants. It’s also noted and important to mention that these “relationships are structured and adapted through the elements of music to create a positive environment and set the occasion for successful growth.”

What Does a Music Therapist Do for People with Autism?

After initially assessing the “strengths and needs of each person.” Music Therapists then develop a treatment plan with goals and objectives. These goals and objectives are shared with the parents and then the Autistic individual is provided with the appropriate treatment for them. Depending on your child’s needs, Music Therapists may work in individual sessions with your child or in a small group. They do this using a variety of music and techniques.

According to the National Autistic Society, Music Therapists:
-may rely on spontaneous musical improvisation
-may use percussion or tuned instruments, or her/his own voice
-will encourage the Autistic individual to respond creatively to the sounds produced by the client and encourage the client to create his or her own musical language.

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Per Verywellhealth.com, “The aim is to create a context of sound in which the client feels comfortable and confident to express himself and for them to experience a wider range of emotions. They want them to discover what it is like to be in a two-way communicating relationship through the use of music. They do this by using “simple songs, pieces or musical styles to suit the mood and the clinical and developmental needs of the client at any given moment.” In fact, I found it interesting while watching my son participate in this type of therapy (you can even learn this from a simply online search) that music being used as a therapy does not need to fall into any “conventional patterns or even use words; the Music Therapist can respond to cries, screams and body movements of the client, all of which have rhythm and pitch and are susceptible to organization in musical terms.”

What are the Benefits of MTfA to an Autistic Individual?

Music Therapy provides a “unique variety of music experiences to an individual with Autism.” They do so in “an intentional and developmentally appropriate manner” fashioned in a way specifically designed to “effect changes in behavior and facilitate development of skills” for the individual on the spectrum. Literature reports that most individuals with ASD respond positively to music. People with ASD (including my son and nieces) often show a heightened interest and response to music, making it an excellent therapeutic tool for working with them.

Music is a very basic human response, spanning all degrees of ability and disability. Music has this amazing healing power for all. You don’t have to be on the spectrum to find it beneficial. Music Therapists can meet clients at their own levels and allow them to grow from there. The malleability of music makes it “a medium that can be adapted to meet the needs of each individual.” Plus, music is motivating and enjoyable where talk therapy sometimes is not.

The Science

The science and processes behind Music Therapy are sound. MTfA can promote relatedness, relaxation, learning, and self-expression. It addresses multiple developmental issues simultaneously. Not only that, it provides a “success-oriented opportunity for achievement and mastery.” Always leaving the child feeling like they accomplished something in each session. The structure and sensory input intrinsic to MTfA help to establish “response and role expectations, positive interactions, and organization” for an individual on the spectrum.

MTfA has been the subject of much research exploring the benefits of Music Therapy for individuals with diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum.

Clinical outcomes studied have focused mainly on the use of music to address:
-Behaviors such as problematic, repetitive or stereotypic
-Social Skills and Interaction
-Emotional Regulation

Published research, evidence-based practice, and/or clinical observations have all found that music holds universal appeal. It provides a bridge in a “non-threatening setting between people and/or between individuals and their environment, facilitating relationships, learning, self-expression, and communication. Music captures and helps maintain attention. It is highly motivating and may be used as a natural “reinforcer” for desired responses. Music Therapy can stimulate individuals to reduce negative and/or self-stimulatory responses and increase participation in more appropriate and socially acceptable ways.”

In the words of the great musician, Bob Marley, "One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain."