How Does Music Therapy Help Autism - Read To Find Out

Through a combination of auditory and motor learning, music therapy is effective in improving various aspects of autistic behaviors, including attention, communication, socialization, social engagement, and cognitive processing.

Music therapy is the treatment that is used to help autistic individuals in order to improve their lives. It can be applied individually, as an intervention in a group setting, or as a therapeutic intervention.

Some common ways that music therapy improves autistic behaviors are by helping individuals better understand rhythm, synchronizing their movements with that of a video, or reading simple language without any mistakes.

What types of music therapy are available for children with autism

Music for everyone

The two main music therapies for children with autism are expressive music therapy and song therapy.

In an expressive music therapy session, the therapist helps the child to:

  • Identify and name emotions and events in music, both positive and negative
  • Interact with his or her environment
  • Empathize with and understand other people
  • Listening to and interpreting noises

The purpose of this form of music therapy is to help autistic children develop language and social communication skills and improve interpersonal functioning.

In a song therapy session, the therapist helps the child to:

  • Express feelings, problems and aspirations in song
  • Develop connections between new emotions and new knowledge through rhyme, rhythm, repetition and accentuation
  • Choose the appropriate feelings and then perform those feelings using movement and singing
  • Use music to improve a child’s motor skills
  • Develop spatial perception and spatial memory, and learn about distance, direction, size, and distance

The purpose of this form of music therapy is to help autistic children develop motor skills, improve language and social communication skills, and improve interpersonal functioning.

Music therapy for autism is a necessary treatment


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in every 68 children is diagnosed with autism.

Yet despite how important music therapy is for autistic children, music therapy has never been completely established as a standard treatment.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) has estimated that there are approximately 60 music therapists across the US, and two certified music therapists per every 10,000 children.

Although this number is the second-lowest for countries included in the study, the trend is decreasing and it is projected to continue to drop over the next few years.

It should be noted, however, that music therapists around the world have been working to make their services more available.

Programs have been launched in places such as Morocco and China where it is not as difficult to implement music therapy in places where professional treatment is not readily available.

One study has shown that music therapy can help young autistic children in a variety of ways, including:

  • Decreasing isolation and decreasing stress
  • Decreasing self-consciousness
  • Increasing speech
  • Decreasing anxiety

This is not to say that therapy will work for every child with autism, and parents should be cautious before choosing a therapist. One of the major challenges is that music therapy can be very expensive, particularly for children, and parents are reluctant to seek outside treatment.

Another issue is that many music therapists are not properly trained, as this is not a licensed profession.

Some critics of music therapy also argue that too much emphasis is placed on learning how to make songs, rather than on learning to express emotions and cope with life’s challenges.

This can be confusing to parents, as music therapy is not meant to teach a child how to sing, but to help them develop ways of coping with life, both positive and negative.

Additionally, not all music therapists are on the same page as to what music therapy really is.

Because music therapy is not a regulated profession, there are many unqualified music therapists out there, and parents need to look for a certified music therapist who is familiar with autism and certified by the AMTA.

Children with autism who are also depressed need music therapy too

Lego boy

Unfortunately, many children who are diagnosed with autism are also diagnosed with clinical depression. Music therapy is known to help both kids with autism and kids who suffer from clinical depression, and several studies have shown that this is a cause for concern.

Research shows that kids diagnosed with autism who suffer from depression also benefit from music therapy. In a study conducted by a team at UCLA, 33 children diagnosed with autism, and 23 kids diagnosed with depression, were taught to use drums, pegs and drum sticks to create a beat.

When given two drum sticks to make music with, over 80% of the kids with autism made music with the two sticks. This is compared to 15% of children without autism who could not play with the two sticks.

Other studies have also found a correlation between children with autism and depression, and it’s not as if parents are throwing in the towel on all other forms of treatment.

Some parents opt to try different forms of therapy with their child, and choose to work with a specialist who works with kids with autism. While it is important to note that there is no formal agreement between all autism experts on the best ways to treat kids, music therapy does seem to have an advantage over other therapies.

Are you eligible for music therapy?

It is important to note that not all insurance companies cover music therapy. In most cases, if a child has received some type of therapy for a diagnosis such as autism, music therapy will not be covered.

If you do have a condition that may benefit from music therapy, a private practitioner should be able to find the therapy you need for less than $100.

In addition to being extremely expensive, music therapy is not always covered by insurance. Most people believe that a child must have autism or some other form of mental disorder to benefit from music therapy.

However, it has been found that the benefits of music therapy go beyond what you might expect.

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