Music therapy is a particularly important intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to engage and foster their capacity for creativity, flexibility, variability, and tolerance of change in order to cope and function in the behaviorally driven education requirements in school settings, as well as home/social setting, and future work and life experiences.
Music is non-threatening and provides opportunities for non-verbal self expression, encourages vocalization, social interaction, as well as many sensory experiences.
Examples of goals for ASD kiddos may include increasing opportunities for cognitive, physical and sensory stimulation, motor skill development (strengthening muscles, increased range of motion, training of movement coordination, etc), to develop orientation and mobility ( i.e. spatial awareness, confidence to move, gait, direction, fine & gross motor skills), promoting social skills, increase vocalization, development of speech and language skills, and promoting emotional expression and self-confidence.
A wide range of techniques are used including, but not limited to: movement to music, singing and chanting, educational/instructional songs, involvement in a group, improvisation, instrument playing, music listening, drumming circle, music as a catalyst for imaginative play.
Benefits of music therapy with preschool aged ASD population include increased attention, improved behavior, a decrease in self-stimulation, enhanced auditory processing, improved cognitive functioning, decreased agitation, increased socialization, improved verbal skills, successful and safe self-expression, as well as enhanced sensory-motor skills. Music can be used to meet them where they are at, and/or bring them to a relaxed soothing state by changing the tempo and dynamics gradually.
Parents can be empowered at home by simply having a small collection of CD’s to help them self-soothe and a handful of various rhythm instruments or small drums they can use for self-expression.
Many of these kiddos are drawn to music as it is time-ordered, they can participate with a sense of control during improvisation, feel supported and heard (especially in the absence of verbal skills) as they express themselves on a variety of instruments, it provides a successful experience for creation and imagination, and music is a very mathematical art and science, providing the logic their minds so often crave.
Natausha Despain, Music Therapist