Music is very motivating for children and can be particularly motivating and enjoyable for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder due to its structured, predictable, fun and non-threatening nature. For many children music can be a ‘way in’ – a way to connect and engage. The goals of the program are achieved through music, providing the child with a relaxed environment to function at their best.
Through music therapy, we can:
Enhance socio-emotional development and reduce patterns of isolation and social withdrawal.
Impaired socio-emotional functioning can include lack of eye contact, lack of physical responsiveness, aloofness, lack of peer relations, often obsessive preoccupation with objects, and maintenance of environmental sameness. Engaging a child with autism in external activities and relationships can prove central to addressing other cognitive and perceptual difficulties.
Children with autism, especially in the early stages of relationship building, often physically reject or ignore social contact attempts by other people. Music therapy can provide an initial object relation with an instrument. Instead of feeling threatened, the shape, sound and feel of the instrument will often fascinate the child. The instrument can thus serve as an intermediary between the child and therapist, providing an initial point of contact.
Once the barrier has been interrupted and contact established, the music therapist can pursue a variety of musical experiences to engage the child in an enjoyable interactive activity. While the process needs time, music therapy provides a unique and pleasurable tool that can be easily adapted to meet the changing needs of the child.
Facilitate communication, both verbal and nonverbal
On the most basic level, a music therapist works to facilitate and support the desire or necessity for communication. Improvised accompaniment to a child’s habitual expressions or behaviours can demonstrate a communicative relationship between a particular musical sound and the child’s behaviour. Children with autism might perceive such sounds more readily than verbal approaches, and awareness of the music and of a relationship between the music and the child’s own actions might serve to motivate communication.
As the child begins to display communicative (verbal or nonverbal) intentions and responses, music can be used to encourage speech and vocalisations.
Facilitate creative self-expression
Since many children with autism respond positively to musical stimuli it is not surprising that music has often been used to motivate and encourage self-expression. Their positive responses can enhance their participation in other activities designed to facilitate social, language, and perceptual-motor functions. In addition, music may also provide a useful context for encouraging the development of curiosity and exploration due to its pleasurable nature.