There is strong evidence that individuals with autism can better learn or enhance individual skills such as counting, learning colors, taking turns, learning the feelings of others when these are first presented through music, song or other rhythmic cueing,5 and that long term music therapy has been effective in achieving established objectives in virtually all cases.6 “Music influences human behavior by affecting the brain and subsequently other bodily structures in ways that are observable, identifiable, measurable, and predictable, thereby providing the necessary foundation for therapeutic applications.”7
Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, improve communication, enhance memory, help deal with stress, and progress physical rehabilitation. It can include anything from listening to music to playing an instrument. This can include anything from listening to music, singing, playing an instrument to dancing and has been specifically established to help children with disabilities. “Music therapy has undeniable results when dealing with children who have disabilities. Children who have social issues, and have trouble making friends have also been known to benefit wildly from music therapy.” 8
“Everyone in the world relates to music. It is the universal language and has the power to communicate with those that communication seems impossible.”9 “We know that music therapy treatment is associated with improvement” in children with autism, reports Catherine Lord, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan specializing in autism research.10 “A 2009 study showed that during play sessions with music, children with autism were more socially engaged with their peers than in sessions without music. Music encouraged the children with autism to interact in more appropriate ways with other children, including sharing and taking turns” 11 “Music is one area of stimulus that almost all autistic children positively respond to, like and enjoy. In fact, they respond more positively to music than any other auditory stimulus, and many autistic children demonstrate better music skills than cognitive skills!”12 Even more exciting, Australian researcher Allan Snyder goes one step further, arguing that many individuals on the autism spectrum may be “savants” who can access creative genius freely, and that music may be a avenue to this discovery.13, 14
The revolutionary and controversial work of French medical doctor Alfred A. Tomatis, who treated a variety of conditions, including autism 15, 16, 17, 18, supports the benefits of listening and of music therapy.19, 20
Tim Ringgold, a music therapist, observes that we are all “rhythmic beings”, that music echos the rhythms of our own bodies and thereby creates instant bonds between people sharing the same music, in a way that avoids the many social obstacles that prevent effective communications and connection. 21
Our wonderful music program was originally funded in 2013 by the generosity of the Marcia and John Goldman Foundation https://jmgoldmanfoundation.org/ and developed by Professor Petra Kern, Ph.D., MT-DMtG, MT-BC, MTA (www.musictherapy.biz), who is Past President, World Federation of Music Therapy, Editor, imagine Early Childhood Online Magazine, Adjunct Professor of Music Therapy, Marylhurst University and Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Louisville and two of her students. It was implemented successfully in the Summer of 2013 by one of them. Each summer since, we have had one or two music therapy students or graduate certified music therapists managing our music program, with great success.
Best practices, gleaned from our own success and review of work by others have been adopted, including the findings of the National Autism Center’s National Standards Report22, as well as scholarly work by Matson23, Lovaas24, Fox25 and others.