The benefits of music for autism

Jude and myself sitting in the car smiling.

 

I’ve mentioned many a time how much Jude loves music. Before he could talk, he would hum nursery rhymes. I’ll never forget that first time myself and my mum heard him hum Twinkle Twinkle and we both looked at each other as if we’d heard something crazy.

 

He began music therapy at a very young age, I think he was around two (my mum will probably remember exactly.) We were blessed by the fantastic Children’s Centre at Addenbrookes with weekly one to one music therapy sessions and it was absolutely fantastic for him. His therapist was an amazing lady, really enthusiastic, could turn her hand to any instrument – one minute she’d be playing the piano and singing and the next, she’d grab a guitar. Such a talent. Jude loved the musical stepping stone things that lit up and played a different piano note each. She’d spend ages encouraging him to walk on them, bang a drum, finish words in a song for her. It was beautiful to see. Almost therapy for me as much as Jude. I’d love to see her again just to say hello.

 

But my point of this post is to highlight how important music can be. Not just to children or adults with autism but for everyone. There are always research reports being written on the benefit of having music in your life – most recently a piece of research undertaken with four and five year olds that (in a nutshell) showed the children taking piano lessons had a huge advantage when it came to hearing tone within words. They therefore grasped language quicker than those who weren’t taking the piano lessons. Extraordinary really. It’s so sad that many schools are having to cut the musical curriculum because of funding.

 

In brief, here are the main benefits to music being in your child with autisms life:

  • Improved behaviour – Now this one I can vouch for. Jude is literally transformed with music and it certainly changes his mentality for the rest of the day (most of the time!) Either by singing to him or playing songs that I know he loves. I used to sing “hey Jude” when he was a baby and it always stopped him crying.

 

  • Expanding communication – I read a report that highlighted how music can improve a child’s cognitive mapping of sound to action. The music has the potential to strongly connect┬áthe auditory and motor sections of the brain and therefore allowing those with autism (particularly non-verbal) to better understand verbal requests. It also allows children to express themselves in ways other than just talking, which is something Jude used to find very difficult. Not only this, talking about the sounds of each instrument, how they feel, etc. really expands vocabulary and the ability to listen and take turns in a conversation.

 

  • Calms the mind and reduces anxiety – If I look at Emmeline as an example here. She can be talking a hundred miles an hour in the car, but if I ask if she’d like “her” radio station on (Classic FM!) then she goes absolutely silent the minute she hears the first piece playing. It soothes her. She’ll then talk slower, behave more calmly and just relax. They need to bottle that magic! Jude is very much the same (though he doesn’t like Classic FM!). He’ll ask for his music when he goes up to his room as it’s part of his chilling out routine.

 

  • Music can teach social skills – turn taking, listening and repeating. All games you can play using instruments. Music is fun, it allows for social interaction, eye contact, general communication and just functioning around other people. All stuff Jude had to physically learn!

 

  • Sensory heaven – the sounds, the feels, the colours. It was sheer joy for Jude as a toddler. You know those big tambourine things with sand or beads in that you can swish around? My god, he’d play with that for ages every music therapy session. Anything positive that stimulates the brain is going to be a good thing.

 

  • Cognitive expansion – During therapy sessions, Jude was regularly asked to remember things or repeat patterns using the instruments. All great practise at using the brain, expanding on ideas you’re already confident with. ┬áMany children with autism go on to learn instruments and the benefits of this are naturally, massive! I’d still love Jude to learn an instrument but I’m not sure how to go about it yet. I may speak to his school…

 

  • Motor development – Through using the instruments and percussion, fine motor development can be enhanced. This is obviously important for other independent skills such as dressing (buttons), writing (holding a pen) and other day to day activities such as opening bottles and locking doors. Music through movement and dance also offers the chance to coordinate gross motor skills.

 

So basically music is fantastic. Does your children’s school offer music lessons or music therapy? Jude sees a music therapist at his school fairly often, I think. He was anyway…I really should check up on that.

I believe music therapists are like gold dust in this country but hopefully you’ll be able to work it into your weekly life in some way.

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