Is Music Therapy Really All That Useful to Children with Autism?

(Issue Series 1)

Short answer to the title question, yes.

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Music therapy, we’ve learned, is awesome. It helps people deal with all sorts of issues, mental and physical. For children with autism and other special needs, music therapy does a heck of a lot. According to Music Therapy May Help Children with Autism, music helps promote wellness by managing stress, enhancing memory, and improving communication. Music therapy has been shown to improve social behaviors, increase communication, reduce anxiety, and improve body awareness and coordination. Kids suffering from autism spectrum disorders (ASD) respond really well to music, especially when little else is able to gather their attention.

According to 5 Reasons Why Music Therapy Helps Children with Special Needs, music does one of the following five things at any given time:

  1. Music motivates. Children give up so easily. The slightest inconvenience will send them into frantic mode with temper tantrums galore (sound familiar, college students?). Music can help this type of problem out a bunch. Music is a top motivator for children with special needs. It can help them develop motor skills by practicing with instruments that require different muscle patterns and thought processes. Singing songs during especially challenging activities also help children by making them more willing to work through their problem. If a song follows a pattern, the child will follow the pattern, like the clean-up song. You know how it goes, “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere! Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.”
  2. Music is a Multi-Sensory Experience. Imagine, if you will, a child playing a drum. Several senses are being activated. The tactile system, which is the child feeling the drumstick in their hand. The kinesthetic system, which is the child moving their arm to hit the drum. The visual system, which is the child watching their hand move to the drum to hit it. And the auditory system, which is, you guessed it, the child listening to the sound the drum makes as they hit it.
  3. Music is Processed in Both Hemispheres of the Brain. Music is actually one of the only activities that engages the whole brain at one time. Wild.
  4. Music is Non-verbal. Words often fail kids. If you’ve ever talked to a kid, you know what I’m talking about. Their limited vocabulary, coupled with their anxiousness surrounding new activities and emotions, is a recipe for disaster. Music helps children fill in the blanks that words fail to. It’s a really cool experience to connect and communicate without words, so when you have a non-verbal child around, this is an easy way to get them out of their shell.
  5. Music Helps You Bond. Music is a good way to bond with children. You’ve seen those earphones meant for pregnant bellies, yes? Well those are used because music is mad important in a child’s development! Oxytocin, also known as the “bonding” or “cuddle” hormone (aw!) is released when you listen to or make music, so it’s only natural that you engage in music with your child. Singing to or with them or dancing with them to their favorite song is bonding. Break out the dance moves and the falsetto.

These are great ways to connect with children and to motivate them to engage in activities and develop new skills. This is incredibly helpful to children with special needs, because they sometimes need more help getting comfortable with new surroundings and situations. Music provides a fun, engaging, and stress-free alternative to the dreaded ice-breakers we all once endured on the first day of class. What a way to bring a kid out of their shell!

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