Music and Autism

Music has been an essential aspect of human life for centuries, and its importance is still recognized today. Research has shown that music can have a positive impact on individuals with developmental disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My daughter who’s currently 8 loves when we get instruments out, regardless of what we play. She smiles from ear to ear as soon as the music starts! 🙂

ASD is a complex developmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication skills, and restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. Music therapy is an evidence-based intervention that uses music to address these deficits and improve the quality of life for autistic individuals.

I first learned about music therapy when I stumbled upon a booth at a fair at Union Station in St. Louis, I was shocked I had never heard of it and immediately hooked.

Music Therapy and the Auditory System

The auditory system is one of the areas most affected by ASD, with many individuals experiencing sensory overload or difficulty processing sounds. This can make communication and social interaction challenging, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration.

Music therapy can be a powerful tool in addressing these issues. Music has a predictable structure and rhythm, which can help individuals with ASD organize their auditory system and improve their ability to process sounds.

Music therapy can also be used to develop social skills and promote social communication in autistic children. Studies have shown that music intervention can increase social interaction and communication skills, leading to improved social and emotional functioning. This is particularly relevant for young children with ASD, who may struggle with nonverbal communication and have limited opportunities to engage in social activities. Music therapy can provide a structured and motivating environment for children to practice these skills.

Music Therapy and Social Communication

In addition to social communication, music therapy has also been shown to have positive effects on brain connectivity and functioning. Neuroscience research has demonstrated that music activates multiple brain regions involved in language, social cognition, and motor skills. This suggests that music therapy may be beneficial in addressing the various deficits associated with ASD, including language ability, motor skills, and social cognition.

Early intervention is critical for individuals with ASD, and music therapy can play an important role in supporting development from a young age. Research has shown that music therapy can improve developmental outcomes in young children with ASD, including improved communication skills and social functioning. This highlights the importance of incorporating music therapy into early intervention programs for children with ASD.

Types of Music Therapy

Music therapy can take many forms, including singing, playing musical instruments, and improvisational music therapy. Improvisational music therapy involves using musical stimuli to promote nonverbal communication and social interaction, and has shown promise in promoting social and emotional functioning in adolescents and young adults with ASD.

Benefits and Challenges of Music Therapy

The benefits of music therapy are not limited to the individual with ASD – caregivers and family members can also benefit from engaging in musical activities with their loved ones. Music therapy can provide a positive and enjoyable experience for families, improving their relationships and overall quality of life. The use of music in the home can also help to promote continued development and growth outside of therapy sessions.

One study published in the Journal of Music Therapy found that music therapy can have significant positive effects on the mental health and wellbeing of caregivers of individuals with ASD. Caregivers reported reduced stress and increased feelings of empowerment and connectedness following participation in music therapy sessions.

Despite the numerous benefits of music therapy for individuals with ASD, there are still challenges to be addressed. One of the challenges is labeling – many individuals with ASD are often labeled as non-musical or unmusical, leading to the assumption that they may not benefit from music therapy. This perception is inaccurate, as musical ability and engagement are not limited by ASD. Music therapy can be adapted to meet the needs and preferences of each individual, regardless of their level of musical skill.

Another challenge is access to music therapy services, particularly in rural or low-income areas. Efforts are being made to address this issue, with some programs offering teletherapy services to increase access to music therapy for individuals with ASD and their families.


In conclusion, music therapy is a valuable intervention for individuals with ASD and can have a positive impact on social communication, brain connectivity, and quality of life. Music therapy can be used in education environments and at home with parents and siblings to promote creating a comfortable living environment.

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