Welcome to the second post in the Why Music Therapy Works series! If you like this post, be sure to check out the other posts in the series!

There is no doubt that the prevalence of Autism, or Autism Diagnoses, is on the rise. With an average of 1 in 110 children being diagnosed, you can be sure that everyone–parents, caregivers, teachers, doctors, etc–is scrambling for research on the best methods to address the needs of these children and adults.

Music Therapy, while not a new treatment for autism, has gained more recognition by parents and caregivers as a treatment modality that helps their loved ones be successful. Today, we’ll find out what we know about why.

Music Mimics the Prosody in Speech: Prosody is a term used to refer rhythm, stress, and intonation in our speech. Music, as a form of communication, actually mimics these speech patterns, and persons with autism are able to detect these changes. By utilizing music as a tool to develop speech, persons with autism are exposed to prosody, and can learn to mimic it through music, and eventually speech.

Music as a prompt reinforcer: Music is instantly rewarding. Successfully making music has the instant and auditory reward of producing sound. Music has proven that it can activate the ‘reward centers’ in the brains of children with autism in ways that social rewards (like stickers, or verbal rewards) cannot.

Music isn’t Scary: As I mentioned in the Young Children post, music has the ability to instantly bypass the fear centers of our brain. Of course, dependent on sensory issues, certain instruments may need to be included or excluded, but the principle remains the same. When our brains perceive a stimulus as a threat, higher level processing (ie. learning) is impossible. Music allows the brain to relax and permit information to access our higher brain function so that learning can take place.

Music Provides Structure: Who remembers the quadratic formula? I do! I learned it as a song in Algebra. I, who fail in all things math, remember that bit of algebra. That’s one of the ways music works for those with autism. It provides a concrete structure through which learning can take lace. There are expected responses and obvious cues that allow those with autism to feel comfortable, in control, and successful. It’s also fun!

Music is Social: A significant amount of time is devoted on IEPs, treatment plans, and other treatment documents towards social skills for persons with autism. Social skills are addressed in music therapy by as simple a method as having the therapist and client play a steady beat together. Successful creation of music with more than one person is not possible without a social awareness of the other person. Through this awareness, other social skills like taking turns, responding to social cues, and reciprocal conversations can take place.


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