‘Music expresses emotions which are too precise for words’

As part of our brand new series of blogs on the area of music, we’ll be exploring the incredible effects music therapy can have on our bodies, our brains, and our behaviour. Today I will discuss the benefits of music therapy for adults and children with autistic spectrum disorders.

What is music therapy?

Few people would claim that they had never been affected emotionally by music. Music is a powerful emotional medium which can affect people deeply. More than any other

medium, music seems to connect with deep emotions, sometimes melancholy and sad, sometimes angry, sometimes exuberant, joyous and life-affirming. Moreover, this intense emotional response to music seems to be unimpaired by illness or disability. Through improvised music, the therapist aims to tune into and support whatever the client needs to express. The therapist may also encourage clients to explore connections between the music they create and thoughts or events in their lives. The therapist aims to translate the client’s psychological processes into expressive music-making which can reveal, release and heal. And importantly, as it is unburdened by the need for words, music therapy can be particularly effective in helping clients who have no speech, or who lack the ability to talk about their emotions.

Music therapy can help to

• identify, connect with and express feelings

• build self-confidence

• develop social and communication skills

• enhance self-awareness

• recognise and manage any unhelpful behaviours or thoughts

Who can benefit from music therapy? Music therapy can be effective for adults and children with:

• learning disabilities

• mental health problems

• physical difficulties

• bereavement issues

• eating disorders

• challenging behaviour

• autistic spectrum disorders

• dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

• emotional problems

• life-threatening and life-limiting diseases

• problems related to abuse

• attachment issues

• family and adoption problems

• multiple sclerosis

• post-traumatic stress disorder

Music therapy for autistic spectrum disorders. Music is a great strength for so many children with autism!

This full colour illustrated tips page with autism music therapy activities can be very helpful to have on your wall.

How are autism and music connected?

It’s exciting to see the body of research relating to autism and music grow each year. This research lends support to what we do as music therapists and serves as a great reminder that individuals with autism DO have strengths and talents that can blossom through the years. Currently, the link between autism and musical processing has been the most wellresearched topics within the realm of autism and music research. Results have found that individuals, particularly those with high functioning autism demonstrate strengths in processing music and often show superior pitch processing compared to neurotypical peers. Other areas of research support the benefits of music and music therapy to assist in communication, social-emotional development, and behaviour.

Most recently, the use of auditory rhythmic cueing and Auditory-Motor Mapping Training are being explored as treatment approaches.

Music Therapy Autism Activities

Music therapy provided by a Board Certified Music Therapist can be of benefit to many individuals with autism who show high interest and motivation for music. There are also simple ways you can incorporate music at home, school, or during other therapy sessions such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or applied behaviour analysis (ABA ) therapy. Here are five ways to use music in therapy sessions, ideal for parents, family members, teachers, and therapists.

1. If your child can’t fill in the last word to a song phrase, give them a movement to imitate instead. This will help make your child feel successful even if they are still learning to talk.

2. Set a Social Story to a familiar children’s tune or chant it to a rhythmic beat. Melody and rhythm make the script easier to remember and can help add variety when reading the same story multiple times.

3. Use novelty to increase motivation. For example, sing in a silly voice, create sound effects, or bring out the bubbles! This can be especially effective if your child appears fatigued or more difficult to engage during instruction.

4. Choose relevant musical rewards! For example, if you are working on colours, allow your child to play a rainbow xylophone after identifying colour flashcards, or sing “Old MacDonald” as a reward after your child completes an animal puzzle. Another way to approach musical rewards is to incorporate them within the task itself. Using this method, the child may actually identify colours on the xylophone itself rather than receiving the xylophone as a reward after identifying colours on flashcards. Embedding motivators into instruction is a common approach during Pivotal Response Treatment, which is frequently used by ABA providers.

5. Help your child tap their hand to a beat with each syllable when working on speech imitation. Over the coming weeks I will be discussing a number of topics on the different areas of music therapy and giving useful tools you can work on at home. And don’t forget you do not need to have a musical background to participate in music therapy.

Over the coming weeks I will be discussing a number of topics on the different areas of music therapy and giving useful tools you can work on at home.

And don’t forget you do not need to have a musical background to participate in musicb therapy.

To book an appointment or to make an enquiry - 086 8241878.

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