Music is a universal language that connects people of all ages and walks of life. Music benefits both the young and old emotionally and spiritually. It is used in many ways to reach deep into a person’s emotions and open them up. Because music can affect a person emotionally and cognitively, more than any instrument could, it is now well-acclaimed and can even be used therapeutically for various conditions, both mental and physical.
Therapies go as far as encouraging individuals to learn musical instruments, as this method can be healing and help improve various aspects of health. Music therapy can even be effectively used to benefit individuals with autism (1).
The surprising connection between music and autism
Autism is a condition where there are complex developmental disabilities in social, cognitive and verbal abilities. The condition appears in the first three years of a child’s life and this can have a lasting effect on speech development (2). Although autism is not a condition that is curable, the right methods of supporting individuals with autism can make a huge difference in their lives.
Music therapy is useful in cases of autism because it can help to stimulate the brain, specifically the parts that are underdeveloped from autism. Studies have shown significant improvements in individuals with autism who are regularly exposed to music (3,5). This is an optimistic turn for cases of autism.
How music therapy helps autistic kids:
Children with autism may have difficulty in comprehending and following verbal commands. About 30% of children who are autistic have difficulty with communication and expressing through verbal means (4). In a number of cases, these children may also have difficulty comprehending body language paired with verbal commands.
Research has shown that music therapy can improve comprehension and understanding by connecting the motor and auditory functions in the brain. Through repetitive verbal commands, coupled with music, children are able to show improvement in following and understanding, in turn, communication becomes a smoother process.
Music is a powerful instrument and can help individuals focus and be more attentive. Verbal cues with music are found to be easier to follow. This includes movements of the body, seeing, touching, listening and in a few instances, smelling and tasting. Through the help of music, children are encouraged to explore their sensory abilities more and they are able to discover new things that can interest them and help their development. (3)
Studies were conducted on the effects of music therapy on children with autism who have restlessness, noisiness, and aggression in their behavior. Studies showed that these children who were exposed to music therapy for at least one hour every week had positive development in their behavior and being able to mellow down restlessness. The study showed the most improvement to children who are less attentive. This is a tremendous development in the connection between music therapy and autism (4).
One of the symptoms of autism is being unable to interact socially and children preferring to play by themselves. This may lead to underdevelopment of children’s social skills which further impacting them as adults. Through music therapy, it was seen that children become more interactive, they are able to express their emotions better and they engage with other children during the therapy session. These children who go through regular music therapy every week have shown continuous improvement in social interaction (2).
Children with autism have a harder time regulating and filtering their emotions, especially emotions that lead to stress and anxiety. Studies conducted in the field of music therapy showed that the therapy has positive development in being able to express their emotions and reduce forms of stress and anxiety. Classical and steady music have a calming effect and children are able to regulate their emotions and express them clearly (1).
Introducing an autistic child to music
Research suggests that early intervention is important in order to see improvement and reduce symptoms of autism. Introducing music to a child with autism is not challenging, and with the right support, a child with autism can be motivated to start listening and enjoying music. Giving them music lessons is another effective way to introduce music. This way, they can explore their own skills and learn to appreciate the music they create.
There are various options to introduce music to a child with autism. If preferred, they can take private music lessons at first so they feel more comfortable. There are also music programs offered in schools that can allow them to interact with other children and help build their social skills.
Access and exposure to music does not only affect the child but their entire family. Music is a universal language, allowing everyone in the family to communicate and bond. It can strengthen the relationships between parents, their children, and siblings.
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