How Music Can be Beneficial for People with Autism

Music can be beneficial for people with autism. It can support overall well-being and daily functioning. Music can even play a role in supporting social relationships, communication, emotional regulation, and more.

Musical Abilities and Autism

Despite their challenges in certain areas, people with autism typically have the same abilities as anyone else when it comes to recognizing, experiencing, and processing the emotional aspects of music. This has been studied in scientific research.

For instance, it has been found that when people with autism are listening to specific types of music, such as happy or sad music, they demonstrate specific activity in the brain that is related to emotional functioning. Specifically, their cortical and subcortical brain regions are activated which suggests that music triggers an emotional processing even when other non-music stimuli don’t have this same impact.

Although it’s not the case for everyone or even for the majority of people with autism, some people with autism do have exceptional musical abilities. Everyone with and without autism has their own unique set of strengths and abilities. For people with autism who excel in musical abilities, research has found that, even if they have limited language abilities, they can still process music similarly to or even better than neurotypical people. Research has also suggested that people with autism may have equal or superior abilities in processing pitch in music as well as processing the emotion within music.

Music Therapy

Music therapy has benefits for people with psychiatric disorders. More research is needed to confirm to what extent music therapy is beneficial as well as to explore the type of benefits that music therapy can have for people with specific disorders.

Some research has found that music therapy can be helpful in supporting the social skills of children with severe autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although more research is needed in this area, it is known that music therapy or just listening to music on one’s own can make a positive impact for many people including people with disabilities like autism spectrum disorder.

Benefits of Music

The Journal “Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience” provides an explanation for how rhythmic input, such as that found in music, can improve sensorimotor functioning and how it can provide benefits to cognitive functioning, behavior, social skills, and communication skills.

Connecting with Your Autistic Child through Music

Some parents find that it can be helpful to use music as a way of connecting with their children with autism. This is particularly common with children who are nonverbal or with those that have limited expressive communication abilities. This is supported by the scientific research which has found that music can be beneficial for supporting the social skills of people with autism.

Emotional Regulation and Music

Research has found that people with autism have average or above average abilities in identifying the emotions present in music. So people with autism can connect with the emotional aspects of music which can be very therapeutic for them. They can use music to express their emotions. They can use music to manage their emotions. And they can use music in an effort to experience preferred moods.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety with Music

People with autism can use music to reduce stress and anxiety. By listening to music, research has found that people with ASD can manage symptoms of anxiety. The type of music needed for this outcome will differ based on the individual but once a particular type of music or even a specific song is found that helps calm the person with autism, it is recommended to incorporate that into the person’s daily life.

Improving Communication Skills with Music

Music has also been found to help people with autism to improve their expressive and receptive communication skills. More specifically, research has shown that music can help autistic people to speak more fluently and can also help them learn to recognize items in the environment.

Improving Daily Living Skills with Music

Researchers are also beginning to explore how music can improve the daily living skills of children with autism. Music can be used as a teaching tool to help kids with ASD complete daily routines.

The Brain and Music

Interestingly, research is also exploring the impact that music has on brain functioning. Neuroimaging research has studied the brain regions that are activated when someone listens to music or when they engage in music-based activities. The brain regions associated with hearing, movement, emotional processing, the experience of pleasure, as well as the region associated with memory are all activated during musical experiences.

Supporting Your Autistic Child with Music

As a parent of a child with autism, you can incorporate music into your daily life to help support your child’s well-being and development. By incorporating music into your child’s regular experiences, you can help improve their social skills, expressive communication skills, receptive communication skills, emotional regulation, connections with others, daily living skills, and much more.

Strategies for Incorporating Music in Your Child’s Life

Let’s explore some ways to make music a part of your child’s daily life.

Musical Instruments

You can get musical instruments for your child. This can be a way for your child to engage in musical activities even if they don’t develop strong musical abilities.

You don’t have to purchase expensive musical equipment if you don’t feel like it is appropriate for your child. You can purchase items that are designed for children to play with instead of getting something more costly.

Singing to Your Child

You can incorporate music into your child’s daily life by singing to them. You don’t even have to be a good singer for your child to enjoy this.

You can find songs that seem to grab your child’s attention or that soothe them in some way. You can sing popular songs or children’s lullabies.

You can sing songs that help teach your child daily living skills. For example, there are songs that help kids learn about brushing their teeth or cleaning up their toys. You can search YouTube for songs that serve this purpose.

You can sing anything that your child connects to. You can also play music for your child to hear.

References:
Ke, X., Song, W., Yang, M., Li, J., & Liu, W. (2022). Effectiveness of music therapy in children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychiatry13, 905113. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.905113

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