Music Therapy for Autistic Children

by Angela Stevens on May 6, 2010

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Autism has received a great deal of press over the past few years in the media. Before that, although the condition existed, it was undiagnosed and under diagnosed. Additionally, because a medical cause had not been found, many people thought it was not a “real” condition. Recent breakthroughs and extensive media coverage have begun to change the minds of people everywhere, and new resources are becoming available for those children and adults who suffer from autism, in any of its many forms.


One of the newer forms of therapy that has been quiet effective is music therapy. This may seem counterintuitive, because music in and of itself does not necessarily teach communication skills, something many autistic children have difficulty with. But upon closer examination, it is easy to see how music does in fact help.

First, music does involve communication. It is a nonverbal form of communication, which makes it perfect for children or adults who have trouble communicating verbally. Because music is – or at least can be – nonverbal, it is less threatening to children who are overwhelmed with verbal communication. As they become more comfortable with the medium, they can use musical games to enable them to interact with others more freely. This interaction can eventually help the child become more comfortable in social interactions.

Another music therapy strategy that is used encourages eye contact. Sustained eye contact is something with which many autistic children have difficulty. By playing music that requires some participation, such as clapping hands or shaking an instrument, children must watch the person leading the exercise. This teaches them to look for nonverbal clues such as a nodding head and can help them be more comfortable with sustained eye contact.

All of this sounds great in theory, but how well does it work in practice? It depends on how it is administered. A trained music therapist is the most qualified person to begin implementing a musical therapy regime. Their training includes a wide variety of classes in music, psychology, special education, and anatomy. Without that specific training, it can be difficult to achieve positive results with music. While I am not trained as a musical therapist, I have had the pleasure of working with some.

One of the first cases that I observed was that of Brian. When I saw him and his parents, he was around four years old and almost completely nonverbal. After a few months with one of our music therapists, he would look at people when spoken to and was able to communicate on a limited basis with his family and people with whom he was familiar. This was an amazing turnaround and much more rapid than any I had seen with traditional therapy. After this, I was more than willing to recommend music therapy as a complementary therapy choice for autistic children.

What results have you witnessed in autistic children who have been exposed to music therapy?


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rhonda 03.23.16 at 4:34 pm

Love this piece about using music to teach children with Autism. Please correct one thing….they are children with Autism, not Autistic children. That being said, the point here is spot on. As a Speech Language Pathologist, my experience with treating children with Autism using music has also been surprisingly encouraging.

Amanda Drew 07.18.17 at 6:02 pm

I love how you say that music is a form of nonverbal communication so it is just the thing for people who have trouble verbally communicating. My son was born with a disorder, and he struggles to talk and let us know what he wants. I should find him some special ed therapy like this that would really benefit him.


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