How regular exposure to music can be used to help children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)

By Caroline Crabbe, General Manager at Jo Jingles

Music is a powerful source of communication because it has the ability to reach anyone and everyone.  Quite like nothing else, exposure to music on a regular basis allows people of any age, gender, with or without learning difficulty, deafness, blindness or other disability, to experience its effects in some way.  Even though music is usually associated with being something you listen to with your ears, there are a series of pitches that can also be felt by touch, such as the vibrations caused when a drum is played which can be of great benefit to children with an auditory disability.

In the case of ASD, music therapy can be extremely beneficial to the developing child.  Children with ASD struggle to make sense of the world and of other people.  They find it difficult to express their feelings, foster social relationships and make friendships; children can often appear anxious or withdrawn.  Such signs mean that speech can also be difficult (non-existent in some cases), as well as concentration and emotional stability.  But music has many counteractive benefits to autistic behaviour.

Music promotes relaxation

In the past, music has been used with good success in supporting all kinds of emotional, cognitive and social development needs across the world.  It has been known to promote wellness by managing stress levels, boosting memory and improving communication.  The good thing about music is that it can also be used to help children to relax as it uses a certain amount of discipline and structure – many children with autism can be hyper-active or find it very hard to sit still for any period of time, such as at the table during a meal.  Music can help with that and offer some kind of control to a child’s body movement and coordination, reduce anxiety and improve behaviour.

Music also encourages social interactions.  Many people find that increased exposure to music helps autistic children to respond to vocals and voices around them more frequently when it is being played interactively – in some cases music has been known to get their attention where many other attempts fail which makes it a potentially therapeutic tool.

Get involved to increase interaction

Of course, if a child is to truly reap the real benefits associated with music, it is vital that parents are involved in these activities with their child at home on a consistent basis so as to encourage and motivate the enjoyment that comes from listening to and interacting with music. Whether it’s simply putting on a CD of nursery rhymes, singing to them at bath time or during a car journey – it will make all the difference if parents instigate this.  Plus, it will help to focus attention and the child is more likely to try to verbalise or use hand gestures etc.

Parents can also increase their child’s social interaction by passing and sharing musical instruments or using movement or songs with repetitive actions and words.  This will help stimulate the parts of the brain that are needed for speech which may help with communication.

It is also important to consider the kind of music used as you want to avoid arousing any anxiety or stress.  Classical music and uncomplicated songs with a predictable beat or rhythm are usually the best type to use – or repetitive nursery rhymes which are also easy for the brain to process.

Have fun and enjoy

Most important of all, music is designed to be entertaining and fun for parents and children with autism.  It will start to generate continuous improvements in behaviour and social skills providing the child is enjoying it – similar to most other forms of play, children need to feel engaged without feeling under pressure to perform.