You may have heard about the strong correlation between diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder and a great affinity for music. Many children with autism have been noted to have an echoic memory for music, natural musical ability, or even perfect pitch. So, it should not be surprising to hear that Music Therapy for children with autism can be productive and powerful!
More and more researchers are finding that autism seems to be related to an abundance of neuron connectivity in neighboring regions of the brain. This could explain why autistic children seem to catch onto patterns easily or memorize things quickly. Autistic brains are even more pattern-seeking than neurotypical ones, and music provides the right balance of structure, predictability, and surprise to organize brain activity and help make sense of the surroundings or situation.
Over decades of research, Music Therapists have worked out how to hone the specific characteristics of music and apply them to useful skill building. For neurodivergent children, singing can create a more accessible entrance to verbal communication skills. Because a sung melody has multiple sensory aspects, it engages more brain areas than a spoken sentence can. This synchronized engagement aids in the child’s comprehension.
You might find that when you’d like to ask your autistic child to complete a task, singing the question or request seems to capture their attention much better than simply speaking it.
Here is another example: musical improvisation can aid in an autistic person’s flexibility. Routine and rigidity are comforting for autistic individuals, and surprises or changes can be dysregulating. Practicing flexibility in a nurturing environment can help autistic children feel more prepared for our world’s unpredictability.
The beautiful thing about music is that it allows for creative risk-taking, but still exists within a reliable set of rules.
This means the structure of music is a contained space where kids can try new things with confidence.
Last to note, and perhaps most important: music can regulate and reassure. Familiar music can be helpful for recovering from meltdowns or shutdowns because it is grounding and validating. Music can reach us in ways that other things cannot, whether we are creating it or simply listening to it. It seems like magic, but it really is just an essential part of being a human with a brain!
How does your child engage with music? Let us know!
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