Autism and Music Therapy
The Autism and Music Connection
As defined by Autism Speaks, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
- Music therapy and autism research supports a link between musical processing strengths and autism and the use of music as a therapeutic intervention.
- Singing can be an in-road to promote early speech by helping children access new neurological pathways to compensate for communication deficits.
- Music is at its core a structured way to present information. Melodic and rhythmic patterns give students with autism a way to organize auditory information and help memorize scripts, task sequences, and academic facts.
- Music can help individuals with autism make social and family connections through a mutual shared interest.
- Music is a creative medium that can offer a motivating and safe way to explore more flexibility and spontaneity.
Our Autism Services
San Diego Autism Programs for Music Therapy
Coast Music Therapy can help your child with autism through:
Autism Music Tips
Five Tips: Music Therapy for Autism
- If your child can’t fill in the last word to a song phrase, give them a movement to imitate instead.
- Set a Social Story™ to a familiar children’s tune or chant it to a rhythmic beat.
- Use novelty to increase motivation: sing in a silly voice, create sound effects, or bring out the bubbles!
- Choose relevant musical rewards. Instead of using a food reward for completion of a color task, use a rainbow xylophone as a reward, or as an actual way to teach colors.
- Help your child tap their hand to a beat with each syllable when working on speech imitation. Read more about Auditory-Motor Mapping research for autism here.
Download the free illustrated PDF to share with a teacher, parent, or therapist who works with children with autism.
Autism and Music Therapy Research
Is there Research to Support Music Therapy?
Music therapy research findings demonstrate that individuals with autism may show equal or superior abilities in pitch processing, labeling of emotions in music, and musical preference when compared to typically developing peers. The most compelling evidence supporting the clinical benefits of music therapy lies in the areas of social-emotional responsiveness and communication, including increased compliance, reduced anxiety, increased speech output, decreased vocal stereotypy, receptive labeling, and increased interaction with peers. Preliminary findings also support the potential for music to assist in the learning of daily routines.
Musicians with Autism
Artist, Musician, Speaker
Joel is powerful testimony for the value of music therapy. A Coast Music Therapy graduate, Joel currently is studying animation art toward a college degree. Several publications and a film documentary have included coverage of Joel’s extraordinary art. As an autism advocate, Joel makes live in-person and broadcast presentations to students in elementary school through college as well as to local corporations. In October 2010, Joel received the Inaugural International Naturally Autistic People Award in recognition of his artistic achievements. Joel partnered with Coast Music Therapy and the Crimson Center for Treatment & Research in 2012 to form the Joel’s Vision Arts & Music Scholarship, offering San Diego county youth the opportunity to fulfill their own dreams.
In her own words… “Hello my name is Sam. Although I have Autism with a pervasive communication disorder, it does not stop me doing things that I enjoy. There are a lot of people who help me to be here, the support and help I have been given has helped me become who I am today. I learned to sing before I could talk and music has always been a way for me to communicate how I feel to the world. I am not the best singer, but I love to sing and be creative when I do. I hope you enjoy listening to my music.”
The Kingsmen are a San Diego-based group of four teenage boys who have progressed from individual therapy to the more demanding social challenge of being a musical quartet. Each member brings a unique personality and talent to the band’s dynamic. Sales of Kingsmen music on compact disc benefit Banding Together, a non-profit organization that provides music therapy scholarships.
Reid Moriarty has a charismatic personality, dancing his way through high school in Southern California. He performs as front man for The Kingsmen band and gigs at coffeehouses, autism fundraisers, and local garages, when invited. Reid has also composed his own music along with his music therapist, Angela Neve.
At age three, Matt’s diagnosis was Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a high-functioning type of autism. He couldn’t tolerate sounds of any nature, and communication was not easy. After completing a special auditory integration therapy to retrain his ears to reduce sensitivity to sound, Matt’s sensory and social perceptions and musical skills flourished at an accelerated pace. Literally overnight, Matt taught himself to read music and play the piano. At age eight, professional musicians labeled Matt a jazz prodigy. He’s performed on stage and in studio with the Ellington All Stars, Chaka Khan, Wynton Marsalis, and Chick Corea. Presently a senior at Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts, Matt maintains both a 4.0 grade point average and a demanding recording and performing schedule.