How music therapy can calm your child

How music therapy can calm your child

As a long-time musician, private music instructor, and individual trained in music and psychology, I admit I am biased in my opinion on the effectiveness of music therapy in the treatment of autism. Adding to my bias is the fact that our son, Scott, sang before he could talk, and much of his progress occurred during the use of music therapy. Apparently, many people agree with me, because the use of music therapy in the treatment of many ailments, not just autism, is becoming more widely accepted and studied.

Music therapy, as defined by the American Music Therapy Association, is "the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program." Its use dates to ancient Bible times, when David used the harp to soothe King Saul: "And whenever the tormenting spirit troubled Saul, David would play the harp and Saul would feel better, and the evil spirit would go away." (1 Samuel 16:23).

Therapists who work with students with autism in the classroom say it gives structure and a predictable rhythm to verbal directions. It may be effective because it complements the strong inclination of autistic people to create patterns, since music is inherently structured and patterned.

Within a school therapy session, a skill related to an educational goal, like counting to ten, describing something, etc., is presented through a song or rhythm. Then the therapist tries to transfer what is learned in music to a non-music setting. Music helps students that can pay attention to songs and learn from them, but find other kinds of learning distracting. In small group sessions, instruments and songs help teach turn-taking, cooperation, and social skills like role-playing "social stories."

Since the child with autism has to be taught to recognize the social cues that the rest of us inherently understand, music is an invaluable tool to teach those skills. It is learning that is done in the context of fun, and low anxiety, which adds to its effectiveness. Listening to the appropriate kind of music also contributes to learning skills

In his book "The Mozart Effect," and the music that accompanies it, author Don Campbell tells about a girl named Georgie Stehli. She was diagnosed as autistic, and put into an institution at four. Her mother found a doctor that told her part of her daughter's problem was that her hearing was too sensitive. She recovered after music therapy and auditory retraining, and her parents started a foundation to use music and sound therapy to help other autistic children. Her story is told in the book "The Sound of a Miracle."

An inspiring book about a child's recovery from autism, "Let Me Hear Your Voice," also illustrates the point. The mother, Catherine Maurice, says, "Singing with her still seemed to be one of the best ways of getting her attention and working on language. Any song that entailed some physical play as well, like…."row-row-row your boat," perked her up." Music therapy was an important part of her daughter's recovery from autism.

Music therapy……it's worth a try. Here are a few resources to get you started:

The American Music Therapy Association. .

Certification Board for Music Therapists. ( To find a certified music therapist in your area.)

Campbell, Don. The Mozart Effect. New York: Avon Books, 1997.

Maurice, Catherine. Let Me Hear Your Voice: a Family's Triumph Over Autism. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.

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