The Healing Powers of Music Therapy
Imagine a world where sounds had no meaning to you other than a jumble of discordant noise that hurt your ears.
Imagine not knowing that the words that came out of people’s mouths meant something, that each world was a symbol that stood for something else.
Think what it would be like if the lawn mower, the telephone, and the human voice all sounded the same to you. This is the world of many nonverbal autistic people.
Due to severe sensory integration issues and other factors as of yet to be discovered, many people on the more severe end of the autism spectrum cannot interpret the sounds they hear. This is a big reason why they can’t talk — they don’t realize language has meaning — and why noise bothers them so much. [show a jumble of random words]
Now imagine a child a bit higher functioning. She has some words, and she understands what words are for, but she struggles to put them together. It is a lot of stress on her system to be able to search for the word that matches what she is thinking and feeling and use her possibly under-developed vocal muscles to say them.
It does not come naturally for her.
Now enter the idea of music therapy for both these children and for everyone on the autism spectrum.
What is the advantage of music therapy over speaking?
Music is a more primal, natural, patterned way of communicating. People with no communication abilities have been shown to respond to and seemingly connect with music therapy.
People with autism like patterns. Music is full of patterns. Music has rhythm. It is something that they can feel, rather than think about. It is something they don’t have to interpret. And it can be used, some say, as a bridge to learning about speech or improving an autistic child’s speech and communication abilities.
What is music therapy?
Music therapy is different than learning to play an instrument. It is not instruction in music. Rather, a music therapist uses a variety of tools, knowledge and creativity to create musical environments where an autistic client feels comfortable.
A music therapist will create appropriate musical environments based on each person’s needs. The great thing about music therapy is that it requires no verbal ability. A person can pick up a bell, bang a piano, or shake cymbals without needing to talk—and in this way they can start to communicate with others through music. In some ways, music is an ancient form of communication — perhaps our oldest form.
Music therapists can build relationships with previously unreachable children by using the power of music to reach them. They can help clients build communication skills, lower their anxiety and improve their overall ability to function.
Why does music therapy work for those on the autism spectrum?
1. Music is considered a universal language.
2. Music captures and helps maintain attention. It motivates and engages a person to respond and participate.
3.Music allows people with autism to express their emotions, and identify their emotions, in ways they might not otherwise have been able to.
4. Music can increase cognitive skills, as well as increase auditory processing, perceptual, gross and fine motor skills. This is because the rhythmic part of music organizes the sensory system in a person’s body. It is like a form of sensory integration therapy, if you do it right, with the right kind of music for the person, which trained music therapists know how to do.
5. Music can have anxiety reducing features. The repeated use of the same piece of music can create a sense of security and familiarity in a given setting, making an autistic person feel more comfortable and more able to learn.
For higher-functioning students on the autism spectrum, music can be a creative outlet in addition to helping regulate behavior. Music therapy helps children focus and relieves anxiety and frustration. When people on the autism spectrum are in a musical environment, they are able to interact with his peers, and often their conversational skills are more appropriate.
For additional information on music therapy as well as other innovative therapies to help people on the autism spectrum, see the book, New Hope for Autism by Craig Kendall. For more information on this book and to sign up for my free newsletter click on the link below, or go to http://www.aspergerssociety.org/newhope