Music Therapy and Autism

Welcome to Ignite Music Therapy’s December newsletter edition! This month is focused on how music therapy can be beneficial for clients who have Autism – one of my favorite populations to work with!

The Autism Spectrum  

The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is exactly that…a spectrum. No two people with autism have the same personalities, struggles, or strengths. Just like no two people without a diagnosis are exactly alike! ASD “refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.” (Autism Speaks Website)  

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Music Therapy Success Stories!

Music therapists who work with individuals on the autism spectrum can work in a variety of domains (ex. communication, social, behavioral, cognitive, emotional, etc.). The unique characteristics of each individual, as well as the variety of domains to work in is what makes this one of my favorite populations to work with! In this newsletter I am going to share a couple of clinical examples of how music was used to help these individuals achieve their goals specifically in the emotional, communication, social, and behavioral domains.

When I first started working with a boy on the spectrum, he was non-verbal, but would vocalize frequently with squeals and other sounds almost constantly. He would move around the room jumping, vocalizing, running, etc. He struggled to stay regulated so we started sessions as a form of regulation through instrument play and he responded very well to hearing, feeling, and watching the instruments be manipulated. Playing instruments that produced lots of vibration helped him move to a calm state and in turn allowed him to focus on tasks after the session. As our relationship developed, he started imitating words in his favorite songs, which progressed to initiating one word requests/responses, then moved to two word requests. In our sessions now, two years later, he is making song requests verbally, singing all of the lyrics to his favorite songs, initiating eye contact with me, following and initiating actions to songs, taking turns with me and his peers, and following directions with and without music. He has made so much progress in the communication, behavioral, and social domains and the key to it all was connecting through music!

Another student I worked with struggled to relate to his peers and would spend most of the day by himself, not interacting with others or playing. His teachers asked me if I could help address this during music therapy group sessions. During the sessions students were asked to trade, pass, and share instruments through the musical cues I gave them. This individual struggled with passing the instruments at first and would become quite upset because he didn’t understand why he had to share with others. As the weeks passed and we worked more on understanding what sharing means and utilized songs that explained sharing a little more, this student made great progress! By the end of the school year he was initiating sharing and play with his peers, not only in our music therapy groups, but also outside of music on the playground! The ultimate goal for music therapy clients is for them to be able to utilize skills they learned and worked on during music therapy, outside of the music setting. It was so great to see him grow socially and build meaningful relationships with his peers!

Individuals with autism have so much to share with us, and we have so much to learn from them! Music can be such a powerful tool in aiding communication, teaching social skills, and as a motivator for accomplishing goals. The satisfaction of being able to make progress and accomplish tasks through music makes music therapy not seem like work at all!

Resources

There are some amazing books, communities, research, and organizations that are active advocates for ASD. Some of my favorite books are:

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry Prizant

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin

If you like TED Talks, Temple Grandin has some good insights to individuals with Autism because she also is on the spectrum and is a great spokesperson and advocate. The link to one of her talks is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds

Check out these websites for more information:

Autism Speaks – https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

American Music Therapy Association Fact Sheet – https://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/Fact_Sheet_ASD_and_MT__8-26-15.pdf

If you have any questions based on this month’s topic, feel free to send an email to info@ignitemusictherapy.com.

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