This is a start of a series of articles exploring the actual use and effectiveness of different therapies for autism. We hear about so many different kinds of therapies and each of them can be expensive and involve a lot of time and effort. This series of articles will help parents choose what’s best for their child and make good decisions that are practical and are based on scientific knowledge.
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is a type of therapy for autism that uses songs, music and musical instruments in a purposeful way to teach children. It has been found to be useful in improving language and communication, peer interactions and expression. Children have also shown improvement in areas of behavior, psychosocial skills, cognition and perceptual motor abilities after regular music therapy.
What is done in a Music Therapy Session?
Children with autism find music non threatening. Music therapy for Autism may include activities to improve social interaction like passing a ball to music or imitating and repeating a rhythmic beat. Children who do not speak are taught to speak through songs. Simple songs are used to communicate with the child and help them to respond. Therapists also use music to teach a child about notes, pitches and sounds that are used in language. Music therapy can be done in individual sessions, or small group sessions. Music therapist do a complete assessment of the child, and work on specific goals based on their assessment.
Who does Music Therapy for Autism:
Music therapists are trained in using music for therapeutic purposes in autism. They are usually required to first complete a degree in music, and then do a specialized course in music therapy. In the US Music therapists are required to complete an approved degree program, a 1040 hour internship, and then sit a board examination to receive the MT-BC credential. You can find a trained therapist by writing to [email protected]
How much does it cost in terms of money and other resources?
Music therapy is usually continued for at least 1-2 years. Sessions are 30- 60 minutes long and can be daily, weekly or monthly. If your child is showing interest and special abilities in any instrument, you may need to buy one to keep at home and practice. Most health insurance policies do not cover music therapy. A session can cost between $50-$100 a session depending on the geographical location and the therapist. In the UK, the British music therapy association recommends £30 for a session.
What does scientific research say about Music Therapy?
All the studies done to evaluate the effectiveness of Music Therapy in autism spectrum disorders have been found effective. A study by Kaplan and Steele and published in the Journal of Music Therapy 2005, found that the skills and responses learnt at music therapy were being translated into daily life. Thus these studies show that music therapy is effective, especially in the area of improving language and communication.
I cannot afford music therapy for my child. Is there anything I can do at home?
Music for Teaching: Songs, or musical activities can be used to teach children with autism. Simple songs can be used to teach new words, animal sounds, colors etc. Use children’s songs and nursery rhymes creatively with props to enhance the learning experience.
Music for Communication: Use interactive songs and songs that have a question part and an answer part to enhance communication. For a non verbal child, you can help a child associate songs or tunes with sleep, toilet, food etc. so that the child can use the song to tell you what they want.
Music for Sensory Activities: Use music during sensory activities to make it more interesting for the child. Set up an obstacle course and put on the music player. Activities like moving to music and marching to music can also be beneficial for the child.
Music for Relaxation: A lot of children with autism benefit from relaxation music to rest and relax. This music is designed to calm the mind and the body. Half an hour of relaxation music in a quiet dark corner can help the child cope better with the demands of the world around them. Take a look at Jeff Gold’s relaxation music (link given below). People with autism have used this music and have found it relaxing.
The Final Verdict:
This is one therapy that you can consider seriously for your child. All the scientific evidence is showing that it is effective, and there are no side effects.
If your child with autism has many needs and is non- verbal, music therapy may be a way to get through to him, and help him learn and communicate. In this case you could try a few sessions, see if it is effective and then decide accordingly. Parents who find it difficult to afford the sessions can go for weekly sessions and use the techniques followed in therapy at home.
If your child with autism is verbal, and enjoys music, but you are not able to afford music therapy, try introducing a particular music instrument to your child at home, and getting a regular music teacher to teach your child. You may need to sit with them and assist, but it will give your child an opportunity to excel in something.
No matter what your financial status is, or what the needs of your child are, I recommend that you use the ideas that I have explained above – i.e using music for learning, communication and relaxation at home.
Where can I read more?
Here are some additional resources on music therapy for Autism: