For many parents, autism is a frightening condition that often leaves them feeling disconnected from their children. The fact that the medical community at large still has a lot to learn about autism only exacerbates the issues families face when one of their loved ones is diagnosed with the condition. Treatment options for autism are limited, and generally require intense training at considerable expense. However, in recent years, music therapy has become increasingly popular as music not only has the power to calm and soothe, but may also be exploited as a means of communication.
As a non-verbal and non-threatening medium, music therapy is safe and useful for autistic children. Music activities are developed to address their special needs. For example, social play is one area in which children with autism struggle, but musical games that include passing an object back and forth are compelling while encouraging social interactions. With music, you also have the option to create a sound together, and many common symptoms of autism can be addressed. Eye contact can be encouraged with clapping games, attention issues can be addressed by playing an instrument; and a child's favourite music can be used as a reward for achieving cooperative social behaviours such as sitting with a group of children in a circle.
More significantly, music therapy has been found to be very effective in helping children with autism develop speech. Communication is one of the major deficits seen in children with autism, especially with regards to expressive speech which is often impersonal or entirely void. Autistic children may be completely mute or rely on very basic communication tools such as grunts, cries, shrieks, or humming. Even more advanced autistic children often rely on very basic communication skills highlighted by a lack of expression or a monotone delivery. Yet, in the music classroom, teachers often relate rewarding experiences with autistic students as they become more engaged and interactive with the music and their classmates.
There is a wealth of scientific research that supports the idea that autistic children show sensitivity to music. Sometimes they play musical instruments extraordinarily well, and the goal of music therapy is to draw on these musical sensitivities to improve communication and social awareness. Some of these children may sing even when they do not speak, and an autistic child's responsiveness to music can easily be adapted to non-music goals. Through consistent and systematic tasks, many autistic children benefit significantly from music therapy. Songs with simple words and repetitive phrases assist with language development, and the joy of music itself can be used to encourage socially beneficial behaviours. As music therapy continues to be an effective tool for autistic children, the applications of the therapy also continue to grow. Many therapists feel that music provides necessary insight into the thoughts and feelings of autistic children.