How Music Therapy can be Used to Reduce Autism


When it comes to music therapy, individuals of all abilities and ages can reap some great benefits. For many years, music therapy has been used in a variety of programs to support social, emotional, and cognitive development as well as in an autism program to reduce stress, anxiety, improve communication and memory, and promote overall wellness.

One study from 2004 stated that interventions that involve music that are used with children with autism spectrum disorder resulted in an improvement of social behaviors, an increase in attention/focus, an increase in communication, a reduction in anxiety, and an improvement in coordination and bodily awareness. Since then, many other studies have revealed that both children and adults with ASD are extremely responsive to music. In fact, music reaches individuals with ASD when nothing else will. Following are some of the benefits of music therapy being used to reduce autism.

Encouragement of social interactions. One study done in 2009 revealed that children who have autism opened up more both emotionally and socially during music therapy sessions than in sessions that did not include music. In addition, children with ASD were more responsive to the requests of the therapist more frequently during music sessions.

When it comes to music therapy, a skilled therapist is able to assist children with increasing their social interaction/social skills. Some of the ways music therapy does this is by passing/sharing instruments, gathering around a central instrument, learning to listen/singing greetings, and music/movement activities.

Improves behavior. One study done in 2012, involving 41 children over the span of 10 months showed that when done on a weekly basis, music therapy sessions actually helped improve overall behavior. The most improvement was seen in the inattentive behaviors. Children who participated in this study were given one-hour long music sessions once per week and their actions were measured against a checklist of target behaviors such as aggression, noisiness, and restlessness. Over half of the group showed improvement by at least one to two points on the scale after these sessions.

Improves communication skills. Did you know that somewhere around 30 percent of autistic children are non-verbal and even have difficulty with following verbal commands and social awareness such as having an understanding of body language? In 2004, a group of therapists found that music improves the mapping of sounds to actions because it connects the motor and auditory sections of the brain. This improves the understanding of verbal commands. Therefore, when music is paired with actions, along with the repetitive training, the brain pathways that are required to speak become improved and reinforced.

Reduces anxiety. Children who are autistic are much more likely to experience anxiety than the average child because the truth is that they cannot filter out stimuli that provokes them. One very small, 4-week study in 2006 revealed that there was some preliminary success at reduction of anxiety in individuals with autism through music therapy. During these short, 20-minute sessions (16 of them), the patients listened to rhythmic music and appeared to have a reduction in behaviors that were related to anxiety. Experts have determined that classical music is the best way to alleviate anxiety in children with autism because the beat is fairly predictable.

Music is a wonderful and effective way to open up communication and to reach children (and adults) with autism. Music therapy does wonders in improving social skills, anxiety, social behaviors, and so much more. This seems to be the one thing that reaches individuals with ASD more than anything else available.