Music therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders?
There are many studies showing how children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD are more likely than their peers to be musical prodigies. This is certainly something to consider in weighing the utility of music therapy among behavioral therapies offered to individuals with ASD. More compelling in the case for music therapy for ASD is the improvement of skills that all children gain with exposure to music.
All children and adults benefit from the motor, sensory, academic, and cognitive skills strengthened by learning music. Accordingly, music therapy for individuals diagnosed with ASD is reported to improve much more than music skills.
What does the research say?
Research supports the idea that children with ASD can benefit especially from the social, communication, emotional, and play skills that come from music exposure. A Cochrane Review of Evidence Based research published in 2014 found music therapy to have significant clinical benefit to social and communication skills of kids diagnosed with ASD. Separate studies using MRI imaging of both non-verbal and verbal children with ASD found music improved neural networks used for connection of sound and action as well as emotion. In additional studies, music has also been shown to improve attention, focus, and coordination, and reduce anxiety.
As with other evidence-based behavioral therapies for ASD, music therapy as an intervention engages children in many of the 27 evidence-based practices studied to be effective in improving behavior and quality of life. Specifically, music therapy can engages children in the practices of Modeling, Prompting, Reinforcement, Picture Exchange Communication, Self-Management, and Social Skills Training, among others.
A consistent routine…
Parents of children with ASD rely on the predictability, consistency, structure, and familiarity of learning a musical technique, or having their child participate in behavior modification through listening to music with a music therapist.
As an effective therapy for children with ASD, music therapists assess skills, family and individual needs, and work towards specific outcomes for children.
I need resources…
Musictherapy.org is a great resource for parents looking to establish a relationship with a qualified music therapist. Parents of children with disabilities may find financial support for music therapy through IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Musicforautism.org is a free resource for concerts designed specifically for individuals with ASD, across the US.
Ads encouraging parents to talk, read, and sing to our children to encourage brain and language development are ubiquitous. Considering the research available for music therapy, singing seems to become even more potent as a recommendation for kids with ASD.
Gebauer, L., Skewes, J., Westphael, G., Heaton, P., & Vuust, P. (2014). Intact brain processing of musical emotions in autism spectrum disorder, but more cognitive load and arousal in happy vs. sad music. Frontiers in neuroscience, 8, 192-192. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2014.00192
Geretsegger, M., Elefant, C., Moessler, K. A., & Gold, C. (2014). Music therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews(6), CD004381. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004381.pub3
Wan CY, Bazen L, Baars R, Libenson A, Zipse L, et al. (2011) Auditory-Motor Mapping Training as an Intervention to Facilitate Speech Output in Non-Verbal Children with Autism: A Proof of Concept Study. PLoS ONE 6(9): e25505. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.002550
Whipple J. (2004). Music in intervention for children and adolescents with autism: a meta-analysis. Journal of Music Therapy. 41(2):90-106. PubMed PMID: 15307805
Whipple, J. (2012). Music Therapy as aneffective treatment with Autism Spectrum Disorders in early childhood: A meta-analysis. In P. Kern & M. Humpal (Eds.),Early childhood music therapy and autism spectrum disorders: Developingpotential in young children and their families
(pp. 59-76) London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.