Music Therapy has been established as a successful treatment modality for children with autism. Research has shown that children with autism show unusually heightened interest in music and as a result, music therapy is an effective therapeutic tool for children on the autism spectrum. Music therapy provides a primarily non-verbal environment that befits children with autism who lack verbal skills, to be willing to engage with others. When conducted by a professionally qualified music therapist, music therapy for children with autism addresses behavioural, psycho-social, emotional, communication, cognitive, perceptual and sensory motor skills, helping the child achieve a more integrated self.
Each therapy session focuses on working towards achieving the goals of therapy, according to the child’s developmental readiness. Music is an effective medium that helps in increasing potential in children with autism as it is conducted in a non-threatening way that enables facilitation all the areas above. The music therapist observes the child’s behaviour and interactions and will conduct assessments to identify the child’s needs before planning and implementing individualised treatment programmes.
Music Therapy can help children with autism interrupt their characteristic patterns of isolation and repetitive behaviours through the musical stimuli provided in the therapy session. As the music therapist engages the child through musical interaction, the therapist continually monitors the effect of each musical stimulus towards the child’s behaviour presentations and willingness to move towards social interaction. Once the child presents a willingness to interact, other developmental areas can then be addressed and worked on.
Music Therapy facilitates the growth towards positive communicative abilities, non-verbally and verbally. The musical instruments used in the therapy session pave the way for relating to an object that gives immediate feedback to the child. Once the nature of object relations has been established, the child then begins to respond to pre-verbal communication such as eye contact, attending, sharing, tolerating another person, waiting, taking turns, etc. Promoting verbal communication would involve the use of songs structured according the child’s needs.
The musical stimuli in the music therapy session also enables children with autism to explore their emotional and psycho-social self, promoting self expression in a creative and safe environment, and supported by the music therapist. Negative feelings can be safely released through musical play, which can then be processed through the psychotherapeutic framework that the session provides, in order for the child to feel supported and understood.
By manually exploring the musical instruments within the therapy session, children with autism exercise their perceptual processes, and learn to relate to tactile, visual and auditory stimulation. Through relevant movement to music and action songs, children with autism can be facilitated to develop their gross and fine motor movements and coordination, enabling body awareness and image of themselves.
Why is it important for music therapy sessions to be conducted by a professional music therapist? As we can see, music is powerful and its therapeutic application is multifaceted. When musical input is inappropriate, applied improperly, uncontrolled and unstructured according to a child’s individual need, the usage of musical stimuli can create sensory overload and a withdrawal into repetitive behaviours. This clearly requires a trained professional to implement and deliver the therapy service.