Musical Healing for Children on the Autistic Spectrum

According to special education data from the California Department of Education, more than 97, 000 public school students in California were diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum in 2016. A number that has increased seven-fold since 2001. This increase was especially significant among kindergartners where autism cases grew by 17% in 2015. In the 4-county region of Sacramento, the number of students on the autistic spectrum rose by approximately 12% from 2015 to 2016. Theories explaining the rise include broader definition of the condition, improved autism screening and more children born with the condition.

In March 2013 the journal “Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience” published an article that reviewed the research related to movement and autism and proposed a rationale for how it is possible for rhythmic input to improve sensory motor functioning and significant overall growth in areas including behavior, social skills, communication, and cognition. Music has proved to be of incredible importance to individuals, and especially children, on the autism spectrum. While a child’s response to music may vary from case to case, the benefits of listening to music, playing musical instruments, singing and dancing are undeniable.

The relationship between music and autism

Singing can be a powerful tool used to promote early speech by aiding children in accessing new neurological pathways to counterbalance any communication deficits. Children also have a natural interest in singing and music: it makes them happy and relaxes them. Music, at its core, presents a very structured way in which to present information. Rhythmic and melodic patterns provide students on the autistic spectrum with a way in which to organize auditory information and helps with anything from grasping the sequence of tasks to remembering academic facts.

Music may help children on the autism spectrum to initiate and maintain connections, both socially and with family members, through a mutual shared interest. Music has always been a popular way to bridge a generational gap and it is of even more significance where autism is involved. Due to the fact that music is such a creative medium it can act as a motivating and secure way in which to explore spontaneity and flexibility; both which will benefit a child on the autistic spectrum tremendously.

The importance of a musical space

Just like for children with ADHD, creating safe and inspiring spaces for children on the autistic spectrum to enjoy stimulating activities in is of vital importance. Music interaction has proven to be of immense benefit to such children and making concessions for musical activities in your home will be of great benefit to both you and your child. A musical space does not need to be big. All it needs to be is free of clutter, comfortable and safe for your child to spend time in.

Music is known to uplift, inspire and heal and the positive impact it may have on the lives of children on the autistic spectrum is irrefutable.  Music therapy is also not exclusive only to those living on the spectrum and you may very well find yourself experiencing as much joy from engaging in all the various facets of music as your child.

This article is a guest (freelance) contribution from Jane Sandwood.

SASSNA has only conducted a general review of the article for appropriateness. SASSNA has not verified all statements in the article, and SASSNA does not endorse or warranty statements in the article.