Striking a Chord: Music and Autism
Everyone can relate to music, no matter our age or abilities. It is one of the most popular forms of communication and recent studies suggest that participation in music makes us more social. For that reason, parents of individuals with special needs children have turned to music therapy to increase communication and socialization. That’s why music classes are one of the many programs offered at SNACK.
In recent years, research studies have shown the benefits of repeated musical intervention for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These studies support the idea that an enjoyable activity such as music can fulfill physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs, as well as help children reach their full potential.
However, even though individuals with ASD are encouraged to interact with music, there are still very few music instructors trained or have experience with children with autism, and even less for teens or adults. This is why programs like SNACK*’s music program for people of all ages are such great opportunities to take advantage of.
SNACK Starts Every Music Class by Saying Hello!
Despite their struggles with verbal communication, evidence suggests that those on the spectrum are able to understand and process music equally- if not better- than their peers. In fact, music happens to be an area of special interest for many people with autism. In an article on Autism Parenting Magazine, Lindsay Diamond- a parent of two boys with Asperger’s and ADHD- describes a presentation she attended called Autism, Music Therapy, and other Neurological Disorders given by music therapist, Kirsten Arbogast.
According to Arbogast, music utilizes innate skills found in people with ASD, such as: heightened auditory sensitivity, attention to detail, increased pattern recognition, craving for controlled multisensory experiences, and unique abilities pertaining to memory.
Arbogast also explains that music therapy can produce significant changes in children with ASD.
In the article, Diamond describes her son’s experience when he was invited to participate in one of Arbogast’s demonstrations. “Despite the dozen or so people in the room, he happily beat a drum to one of his favorite melodies—In the Hall of the Mountain King—while keeping his attention solely on her. When she changed the beat, stopped the song, or asked him to follow her around the room, he did, without argument or distraction. As his mother, who knows all his quirks intimately, I was amazed,” says Diamond.
"We should not focus on what they can’t do, but rather what they can."
People often describe kids with autism as having brains that are “wired differently.” Some neuroscientists have suggested that differences in brain connectivity may be partially responsible for difficulties in verbal and social communication observed in ASD, and sensory sensitivity.
In a research study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website, Megha Sharda, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Montreal and her colleagues studied the impact music intervention has on school-aged (6-12) children with ASD through scanning brain activity.
In a relatively short period of time, the parents of the children in the music intervention group reported improvements in language, social relationships, and family quality of life in comparison to the control group.
Other studies yield similar results, providing more evidence of the benefits music has for children with special needs. In addition to being a source of personal pleasure for individuals with autism, the following are all reported advantages:
Dancing along to music or playing instruments can increase motor skills in special needs children and enhance body awareness and coordination.
According to a research paper published in PLOS ONE, autistic children involved with music programs have exhibited improved ability to follow instructions and understand verbal commands.
Music’s rhythmic patterns can help children with ASD organize auditory information, improve memorization, and- with repetitive training- prolong attention span.
It has been shown that vocabulary, vocalization, and verbalization improve in individuals with autism subsequent to music interventions.
Singing can help autistic children effectively express their emotions. Non-verbal children can use music experiences to express themselves without using words.
Music interactions can fulfill auditory, visual, and tactile sensory needs which can decrease self-stimulatory behavior and channel it into a more creative and appropriate outlet.
Group musical ensembles can build social skills, self-confidence, friendships, and the respect of self and others
According to Strong Institute, anxiety and anxiety-based behaviors such as self-stimulation, tantrums, aggression, and social withdrawal, are common issues among people with autism. Music can help decrease these behaviors, especially the repetitive and predictable rhythms of classical music.
All of these benefits are the reasons behind SNACK*’s decision to include a music program in its Snacktivities. In music classes, old favorites, as well as songs written just for SNACK*, focus participants on playing instruments, group singing, following directions, enhancing gross motor skills through movement and increasing interpersonal skills.
For more information and to sign up for music classes visit SNACK*’s program guide.