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Interpersonal communication is one of the most difficult struggles that individuals with autism face. In addition to creating difficulties with communication, autism can often lead to sensory over-stimulation and resulting behavioral issues. Most people with autism, however, have a very positive reaction to music, making it an exceptional tool for therapy. Music therapy is nonverbal, non-threatening, enjoyable, and can especially help improve communication and behavior.

How Music Therapy Works

Music is a language that everyone can speak, making music a nearly universal method of communication. It turns out, music is a wonderful way to communicate with non-verbal individuals. Music helps to develop a safe and comfortable environment; giving the individuals something positive on which to focus. To those with autism, verbal communication can be intimidating and frustrating. Music bridges a gap that words cannot.

Multiple studies have shown a link between music therapy and improvements in behavior and social skills. This type of therapy is also highly adaptable and can be molded to meet each individual’s specific needs.

Results of Music Therapy

By altering the connections between hemispheres of the brain, music is able to improve an individual’s behavior and communication skills.

People on the autism scale struggle with sensory overload, which may limit their ability to communicate. Music may decrease the connections between the auditory and visual brain areas. That decrease can help make sensory sensitivity less overwhelming for those with autism and lead to improved communication overall.

Music also helps stimulate cognitive functioning since it is processed in both hemispheres of the brain. By encouraging brain regions that overlap the human mirror neuron system, music is able to improve the cognitive functioning that leads to strong communication abilities. Music therapy often helps individuals develop verbal communication such as speech and language, that otherwise would have been far too difficult.

Through interpersonal communication, music therapy is capable of developing verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Music integrates timing, response, and patterns that foster taking turns listening and responding, both of which are essential in healthy communication environments.

Music therapy goes beyond helping boost communication skills; it also improves auditory processing and fine motor skills. These improvements are mostly due to the importance of rhythm. Rhythm is deeply comforting to those with autism. It provides them with a sense of order when it comes to the management of all of their senses.

Music therapy is one of the most helpful tools for those with autism today. This style of therapy not only helps build communication abilities and encourages positive behavior but can lead to better sensory management and increased motor skills. I hope that we will continue to explore and develop our understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the undeniable value of music.

This is just one more way music is making the world a better place!

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American Music Therapy Association. “Music Therapy As a Treatment Modality for Autism Spectrum Disorders.” June, 2012. http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/MT_Autism_2012.pdf

Bergmann, Thomas. “Music Therapy for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” The Oxford Handbook of Music Therapy, January 2016. https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199639755.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199639755-e-35

Stavropoulos Ph.D., Katherine, K.M. “How Music Therapy Affects the Brain in Autism.” Psychology Today, March 2, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuroscience-in-translation/201903/how-music-therapy-affects-the-brain-in-autism