The Benefits of Music Therapy for Autistic Children

Music was first used for children with additional needs in the early to mid-1900s in America. It now benefits everyone. Music therapy helps autistic children improve their social interaction and communication skills. Read on to learn more!
The Benefits of Music Therapy for Autistic Children
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Did you know that music therapy has quickly become a tool used in autism therapy? It stimulates both hemispheres of our brain. We often notice autism within the first three years of life. Besides, it’s recognized as a highly complex disability that affects the development of social, verbal, and cognitive abilities. 

This development disorder can affect the way that we communicate with other people. Though there are similarities between different cases of autism, it’s difficult to narrow down a specific sign or symptom. Sadly, approximately one in six Americans will have a form of autism.

Though we can’t outgrow it, being diagnosed early means that there’s a better chance for treatment. Since music therapy stimulates the brain as we mentioned before, a therapist can use a song or instrument to support cognitive activity. This way, the child can build self-awareness and improve their relationships with others. 

After all, music encourages communicative behavior. It also boosts interaction with others, which is something that autistic children have great difficulty with. If we look closely at the way that a band works, it’s obvious that the instruments must all interact with one another.

Yet, the player only needs to interact with the instrument at first. For children dealing with autism, interacting with others can be difficult. Nevertheless, by introducing an instrument to their therapy, they’ll bond first with the object. Thus, they’ll easily open up to others, interacting with their instruments as well.

“I adore art… 

when I’m alone with my notes, 

my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, 

and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear.” 

-Guiseppe Verdi-

Why music therapy is a great choice

Music therapy helps people with autism to improve skills in a broad range of areas. These areas include communication, social skills, sensory issues, behavior, cognition, and perceptual/motor skills. Successful therapy also helps autistic children in self-reliance or self-determination. 

The therapist finds music experiences striking a chord with a particular person, while making personal connections and building trust. According to a recent study that looked at outcomes, the trial reported many benefits. This ranges everywhere from boosted social behavior to increased attention to the task to reduced anxiety to enhanced body awareness.

According to the same study on autistic children, music also enhances vocalization, verbalization, gesture, comprehension, communication, and social skills. It also utterly boosts body awareness and coordination, while improving self-care skills. 

Another study suggests that family-centered music therapy can build stronger parent-child bonds. In fact, music especially interests people on the autism spectrum. They’re highly responsive to it. As music is motivating and engaging, it may be used as a natural “reinforcer” for desired responses.

Music aids those with sensory aversions to sounds to cope with sound sensitivities or individual differences in auditory processing. If your child, whether autistic or not, truly enjoys and responds to music, consider this wonderful therapy. Check out even more benefits below:

Listening and singing support

Our interpretation of music, both in lyrics and in sound, can greatly assist in teaching us to communicate. For children with autism, music therapy means learning a new word from a song. It also means better understanding how to act in a social situation based on the messages that a song is expressing.

Autism creates barriers for children in social settings, but small groups of children listening to music together are great. This helps them feel confident and comfortable enough to comment or sing along with others. Dancing exercises can also help to stimulate our sensory systems and let us enhance fine motor skills.

According to studies, by learning with our autistic children via gentle play, musical activities, and fun games, we create a supportive environment. Here, parents and children can bond in a healthy way. The reason that we use music therapy is to help our autistic children learn to relate to us and to others. 

Other family members may be invited to participate after children become accustomed to one on one sessions. Aside from the sensory of dance, advancement of lyrics, the social dynamic of an instrument, and rhythm boosts impulsive playtime. These activities involve our entire brains and body as one.

Image of brain.

Multi-sensory and anxiety reducer

Music has been an enriching and meaningful way for people to engage with each other throughout time. More importantly, it provides powerful, multi-sensory experiences for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Making and listening to music involves listening, watching, touching, and using fine motor skills. Not only does it enhance auditory processing, but it also boosts sensory-motor skills and perceptual-motor skills.

Children with ASD can suffer from anxiety at higher rates than the general population due to how they experience stimuli. Studies have shown that short, therapeutic exposure to classical music can help reduce tension and ease anxiety.

Assists social interaction development

During music therapy sessions, autistic children have shown to display a wider array of emotional expressions. They also display greater social engagement behaviors than in play sessions without music involved. 

Many therapy sessions and group music classes also include playing games, sharing instruments. They also include working collaboratively, which can be great practice for children working toward social goals.

Music has been used to help develop educational, cognitive, and emotional skill sets in children of all populations for many years. Additionally, it helps improve focus, listening and abstract thinking skills, and socio-emotional connections. Research shows that music therapy for autistic children is highly beneficial.

As you can see, music therapy is beneficial to us all, not just autistic children. The sessions usually involve crucial communication-building exercises or relaxing playtime and motivation. Therapists let children develop new skills, whether singing, dancing, or playing an instrument.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Allen, R. Hill, E. & Heaton, P. (2009) The subjetive expierence of music in autism spectrum disorder. The neurocinces and music III – disorders and plasticity: New York academy of sciences nº1169: pp 326-331
  • Allen. R, Davis. R, & Hill. E. (2012) The effects of autism and alexithymia on psycologucal and verbal responsivness to music. Jurnal of autism and dev. Disorder. Publisher Sprinter US vol 43 issue. 2 pp.432 -444
  • Sharda, M., Tuerk, C., Chowdhury, R., Jamey, K., Foster, N., Custo-Blanch, M., Tan, M., Nadig, A., & Hyde, K. (2018). Translational Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/s41398-018-0287-3

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.