Music has an incredible power over us as a species. It can transform our mood, break our hearts and transport us to a particular memory in a way that little else can. Whether you’re a die-hard Queen fan or cry every time you hear Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor, music as a collective sensory trigger has a similar effect on us all. If the financial success of the musical industry shows us anything, it’s that sometimes we can communicate things better in song. With this in mind, we are turning to music in recent years to help people who sometimes struggle with communicating normally: those on the autistic spectrum. While music has recorded benefits across multiple age ranges, music therapy for autistic children in particular has shown to have a dramatic impact which is worth shining a spotlight on.
The NHS uses the name Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) for ‘a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.’ It’s a condition that affects more boys than girls, with an estimated 1 out of every 100 people in the UK having ASD. People with ASD will usually have fewer social skills and will have difficulties communicating; with the extent to which they are non-verbal varying child to child.
For someone with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum, life will be more complicated and so their loved ones will usually professional help and guidance to ensure the quality of life is as good as possible. This brings many to consider how music could play a part in helping the child. Music therapy in autistic children has been proven to help both stimulate and relax, thereby giving the child a means to cope with unwelcome changes to their routine and also provide them with a route to communication. By connecting with someone through music, an autistic child finds a comfortable way to build relationships; and can even work on their language skills through song lyrics. A music-filled environment is more relaxed, with ‘looser social demands’ which allows autistic children to feel less pressurised and to use the fluency of music to motivate their conversation.
Since autism can be diagnosed within the first 3 years of a child’s life, benefitting from music therapy early can be a way to help the child have a relatively easier childhood, as music stimulates the imagination and creativity, giving them a way to connect with other children. Autistic children sometimes are reluctant to play with others their own age, so by giving them a medium to feel more engaged (music) from a young age, it becomes an easier activity for them to embrace. Music therapy works well due to the fact that music has been proven to stimulate both hemispheres of our brains, so therapists can help children build relationships with others while also supporting cognitive activity that develops self-awareness.
Autism and music have been linked for a while, with studies noticing that those with ASD were more likely to do better at tasks that involved paying attention to or recollection of simple sensory stimuli, such as ‘perfect pitch’ or copying a melody they hear on a musical instrument. However, using music as more than just a creative outlet, but a tool for positive development brings more possibilities to light for the ASD community. It’s clear that music therapy for autistic children is one of the better discoveries over the past few years, and we should all be promoting and supporting it much more. If we have found a way to help autistic children have a simpler and more relaxed childhood where they can make friends and be more comfortable with their family, then surely, we should be shouting from the rooftops about it!
By Elena Jones, Marketing Executive at One Stop Social.