The main reason behind utilizing music for treating medical disorders such as autism, is the universal fact that almost everyone responds to at least some kind of music. According to experts, the potential of music therapy lies in the fact that this technique does not incorporate verbal communication, and more importantly, it is a natural reinforcer. Music therapists believe that with autistic children, this therapy successfully works as a non-threatening treating option.
Impact of Music Therapy on Autistic Children
Children who suffer from autism exhibit no interest in and/or are attracted towards engaging in social activities like normal people do. And it is here that use of music as a therapy works so well. When such children are exposed to various music sessions, they somehow learn to recognize an opportunity to express themselves, though not in a vivid manner but in a promising way.
For instance, a music therapist may work with the affected child by helping him/her getting engaged in a game that involves passing a ball back and forth by responding to music. Similarly, there might be musical games where the child may have to stay with a group of other children. So activities such as these, attempt to help the child develop social behavior.
Helping an autistic child maintain and channelize attention is another goal that a music therapist achieves by trying to strike a chord between a specific tone, note, or pitch of the music and the affected child. One example may be playing an instrument near the face of the child. This might help the child to increase his/her attention span and encourage eye contact, which is again an important goal of the treatment.
Music therapy is an amalgam of auditory, visual, and tactile sensations. And these factors help to stimulate the sensory organs of autistic people.
Language is one of the crucial areas of development which children suffering from autism have severe problems with. And music therapy can make a huge impact in helping patients to improve their speech ability which mainly involves conceptualization, symbolization, and comprehension. Experts say that music is processed on both hemispheres of the brain. And because of this, the therapy can actually help autistic persons to improve cognitive functioning, and get hold of their language skills.
It has been noted that when autistic children get engaged in singing or dancing, they somehow develop the strength to break the pattern of isolation, and begin to communicate, even if it is done only through singing. Music therapists are aware of the fact that people with autism let their power of perception to welcome musical sounds more easily and readily than verbal commands or approaches. If an autistic person can connect between the music that he/she is listening to and his/her own actions, then this might be able to emerge as an icebreaker to motivate communication. So if an autistic child is able to express himself through singing and not speaking, then the therapist can work on systematic techniques to enhance the child's speech learning ability with the help of vocal music activities. Most music therapists compose songs that include simple words, or recurring phrases to sharpen the affected child's language. And when such music lessons are taught or presented with visual and tactile cues, the results could be more promising.
As children with autism are socially isolated, and prefer to stay or retreat into their "own world", for them the concept of "relationship building" may not exist. They usually stay unresponsive to others' feelings, and would avoid any physical contact, ignore any social approach attempted by anyone. Music therapy gives them is an opportunity to build a low-key, 'non-threatening', non-verbal relation with an instrument, as what has been stated by researchers at CAMT Wilfrid Laurier University.
It is most likely that the sound, feel, and overall look of a musical instrument would help the (autistic) individual open up and take the first step to an initial point of contact. And with the instrument playing as the intermediary, the therapist can gradually step into the "world" of the patient. And once the therapist establishes trustworthy contact with the client, he can implement a variety of musical techniques to draw the patient out from his/her internal world of social negligence.
Researchers, however, have also stated that there is a possibility that the technique of music therapy may lead to undesired outcomes for some autistic individuals. For instance, in some cases, experts found that music aggravated the withdrawal and "self-isolation" behavior in persons with autism. According to them, if application of this type of therapy is not done in a carefully controlled and structured manner, then it may push autistic individuals deeper into their ritualistic world.
Medical experts would agree to the fact that the benefits of music therapy for autism do not come easy, as the process is slow and arduous. And because of the slow course of the treatment, at some point, parents and even the therapist may feel that they are losing the battle. But there are instances of autistic children quietly leaving their classroom, singing softly with all meaningful words and phrases taught in the session, which is a rewarding experience for the teacher and parents as well.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.