Music Therapy & Autism

Music therapy is a non-invasive and enjoyable form of therapy that can be used in conjunction with other forms of therapy. If you have a loved one with autism, consider music therapy as a way to help them improve their quality of life. By incorporating music-based activities into a comprehensive treatment plan, individuals with autism can receive more holistic care that addresses their unique needs.

music therapy for autism

If your aim is to have your child build vocal or instrumental skills, you’ll need to find an instructor instead of or in addition to a music therapist. While traditional therapies have their benefits, music therapy brings unique advantages.

Music therapists do not diagnose but are able to effectively create music strategies to help develop targeted skills. A therapy session will vary from child to child, depending on the child’s specific needs. Before your child starts music therapy, their music therapist will develop a personalized treatment plan for your child. Depending on your child’s goals their treatment may involve singing, dancing, listening to music, playing an instrument, or even composing music. Considering the diversity of music therapy approaches, improvisational and educational music therapy programs provided to youths with ASD and other NDDs were distinguished.


After 16 short, 20-minute sessions, during which the treatment patients listened to rhythmic music, the participants who received the therapy appeared to have decreased anxiety-related behaviors. Classical music or music with a steady rhythm is thought to be the best for alleviating anxiety in children with autism due to the predictability of the beat. Children with autism have been found to show more emotional expression and social engagement during music therapy sessions than in play sessions without music. These children also responded to the therapist’s requests more frequently during music therapy than in play sessions without music. Interpretation of music, both in lyrics and in sound, can greatly assist in teaching people to communicate. For children with autism, this could mean learning a new word from a song, or better understanding how to act in a social situation based on the messages that a song is expressing. We know that autism can create barriers for children in social settings, but small groups of children listening to music together may feel confident and comfortable enough to comment or sing along with others.

Additionally, music therapy can work to improve memory in children with autism, which can be especially helpful in academic settings. By engaging in music therapy, children can build their cognitive skills while having fun and enjoying the process. Music listening is a simple but effective music therapy technique that involves listening to music with a specific purpose or intention. Music therapists can use music listening to help people to regulate their emotions, improve their focus and attention, and enhance their sensory processing. By selecting music that’s calming, energising, or otherwise appropriate for the individual’s needs, music therapists can create a tailored listening experience that supports the overall goals. Music therapy can help persons living with ASD to improve their social competences, independance and even academic skills. This means that music therapists can help a child meet the goals of their individualised educational plan (IEP) and/or communicative, physical, sensory or psychological targets.

A fun way to improve your child’s memory and focus is by playing music and making hand gestures to the beat of the music. If you’re concerned about sensory overload, you can skip the music and simply create clap patterns for your child to copy. The trick is to start with a simple pattern and gradually increase the difficulty once your child has mastered it. As every person living with an ASD diagnosis and every parent of a child with ASD knows, each and every case of ASD is as individual as the person who experiences the symptoms. In general however, ASD symptoms can be (very) broadly categorized by difficulties in social communication and interaction alongside the presence of restricted, repetitive behaviour, interests and/or activities. Breaking the pattern of isolation and engaging the autistic individual in external rather than internal activities and relationships can prove central to addressing other cognitive and perceptual problems. Thaut (1984) further suggests that problems with social relations are also more amenable to initial therapy than are other underlying disorders.

Musical Abilities and Autism

However, the studies that used clinical scales such as the SRS or the CARS to track changes in the severity of autistic symptoms did not present significant findings. Finally, music interventions including family members exerted a stronger effect than other types of interventions for youths with ID (36). This finding is a possible argument supporting the inclusion of family in improvisational music intervention sessions in youths with ID. However, so far, no direct comparison between therapy sessions including family members or not has been conducted to test this hypothesis. Music therapy compared with ‘placebo’ therapy or standard care probably increases the chance of overall improvement by the end of therapy. It also probably helps to enhance quality of life, and lessen symptom severity.

Music Therapy and Children with Autism

Music therapists work closely with speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and other professionals to ensure that interventions align with the individual’s overall treatment goals. Music therapists may create personalized playlists or use specific types of music that have been found to have calming or organizing effects. These playlists can be designed to match the individual’s preferences and needs. Therapeutic listening sessions may include activities such as listening to music through headphones, engaging in gentle movements or guided imagery, or participating in interactive musical experiences. One of the core principles of music therapy for autism is the use of individualized approaches. Each person with autism has their own set of strengths, challenges, and preferences. Music therapists work closely with individuals and their families to understand their specific needs and develop personalized treatment plans.

For hypo-responsive children with ASD who have low energy levels, music with a faster tempo can help increase their level of alertness and arousal. It can also help them develop their gross motor skills by moving their bodies to the music. We utilize UnitusTI- therapy software for our practice management, assessments, documentation, clinical reports, and scheduling, as well as the Meet In the Music Curriculum©. By understanding the nature of Autism Spectrum Disorder and the fundamental principles of music therapy, we can delve into the specific benefits and techniques employed in music therapy for autism. To fully comprehend the impact of music therapy on individuals with autism, it is essential to understand Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the concept of music therapy itself. Elemy provides world-class behavioral health care helps children navigate autism, ADHD, anxiety and more. Rather, Elemy finds ways for all to work together to find strategies to embrace it.

Restlessness, fidgeting, and inattentiveness are frequent challenging behaviors among kids with autism. Since hearing and motor functions are controlled in the same parts of the brain, music therapy can effectively improve these behaviors. Due to its calming effect, music can also help reduce aggression, self-injuries, and temper tantrums in children with autism. Research has shown that music therapy can be effective in improving communication, social interaction, and behavior in individuals with autism. Read more about piano lessons for autistic child here. In summary, our findings suggest that MT is effective in improving the social interaction of children with ASD. This convenient, short-term music program may help children with ASD learn social skills and integrate into society. Because of the small number of eligible studies, the conclusions should be applied with caution, and there appears to be no consensus on the continuation of the intervention effects.

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