How Music Therapy Classes Help Children with Autism
December, 2016 | By Gail Spina, OTR/L
Twinkle, twinkle little...
Did you finish the song? Most likely you did.
This is one powerful use of song we use with our children with autism in music therapy at the Sunny Days Sunshine Center. Having a child fill in the gap is based on the concept that "structured musical experiences may be utilized to provide clear cues to anticipate a response, giving time to plan and sequence a series of actions as needed for social interaction" (LaGrasse, 2014, p.254). "Lai and colleagues (2012) demonstrated that children with autism, ages 5 to 10, have stronger activations of the cortical speech and auditory areas when exposed to song, exceeding activations in neuro-typical children" (LaGrasse, 2014, p.253). "If persons with autism can better process musical stimuli, then music may assist learning in areas of deficits, including social skills groups" (LaGrasse, 2014, p.253). With this in mind, the Sunshine Center offers music therapy for our children with autism.
Learn the definition of music therapy and how it's helpful
The American Music Therapy Association (www.music.therapy.org) describes music therapy as a "research based discipline that actively applies science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for health treatment and educational goals" (AMTA, 2014). "Music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals" (Gauntt, 2012).
"A hallmark characteristic of autism is a deficit in social and communication skills, including difficulty reciprocating social interaction, problems establishing and maintaining relationships and abnormal communication behavior" (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). According to LaGrasse (2014) "Tomchek and Dunn (2007), found that over 90% of children with autism demonstrate behaviors related to poor sensory modulation including self-stimulation (rocking or hand flapping), auditory/tactile defensiveness (hand over ears, avoiding touch), sensory seeking (crashing, creating sound), and "tuning out" (not responding to name or environmental cues). These behaviors can directly compete with social interaction opportunities" (2014, p.252).
See how we work with kids with autism through music therapy
Music therapy at the Sunshine Center is the tool used to draw children in, engage, and explore and experience joy. Avoiding interaction one day in music therapy may be replaced with curiosity, exploration of instruments, pleasure in listening, and a cathartic reaction in subsequent sessions. Rocking and hand flapping can be replaced with functional movement patterns, friendly volumes and sounds can be established, opportunities to move, crash and make noises can be explored while finishing a familiar song may refine ability to respond to environmental cues.
This deeply individual experience is shared with peers in a safe, loving environment. At the Sunshine Center we use music therapy as a social experience where children gather around the music therapist, march and move to different beats, follow hand and body gestures, sing however they want, and laugh. Our children learn how to communicate hello and goodbye, become aware of self and body parts and learn about friends in the room. Our children are drawn out of an internally driven existence to one where there is a relaxed but structured opportunity to interact with others and develop "joint attention" (La Grasse, 2014). Music therapy is a valuable treatment approach since "many children respond positively to music experiences potentially increasing engagement for learning" (LaGrasse, 2014, p.253).
The Sunshine Center is dedicated to providing an assortment of services that serve to contribute to the holistic development of our children with autism. Music therapy is a powerful tool used to prepare our children for unpredictable social and academic challenges.
Join one of the Sunshine Center's music classes coming up in January 2017 and see what all the fun is about. Visit our website or call the center at for more information at 732-761-0302.
- American Music Therapy Association (2014). AMTA press release on music therapy.
- Gaunt, J., (2012). Music therapist works to give children with autism a voice. Retrieved from: Sam Houston State University. Para 23. www.shu.edu/~pin www/T@S/sliders/2013/lim/html
- LaGasse, A. B. (2014). Effects of a music therapy group intervention on enhancing social skills in children with autism. Journal of Music Therapy, 51(3), 250-75. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.philau.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.philau. edu/docview/162 7710689?accountid=28402