“Music is food for the soul” as an adage has already proven its point in so many forms and aspects of our lives that music undeniably becomes an invaluable part of our existence. The benefits of music apparently differ from one person to another, recognizing our profound uniqueness and varying physical makeup. Some of us would listen to music to boost our productivity at work and studies, while many others turn to music to free themselves of doubts, fears, and worries caused by the harshness of life. It is also through music that many of us find some sense of belongingness, by realizing that we share the same taste and preference with other people.

Those in the medical field, however, regard music as a promising tool that can help treat several neurologic disorders. It is not news that music has been used to improve our cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development but most of these past research are focused on observing the effects of music therapies in neurotypical individuals. With more new studies aimed at understanding how music affects the condition of people suffering from neurologic disorders such as autism, our perception of music therapy may even change to a greater and more positive manner. But what do health experts and medical research have to say about music therapy in autistic individuals? The following insights could be what you need to finally convince yourself and your loved ones that music helps treat autism-related symptoms.

Music Improves Communication Skills

For children with autism, at least a third of the total known cases have speech challenges, which makes it very hard for them to communicate their needs to others. What makes this situation worse is the fact that they can also have difficulties understanding other people’s articulations especially for children who have low-functioning autism. Many autistic children also have a hard time understanding how to react in social situations because they cannot effectively read body language and other social cues.

A research article published by Catherine Y. Wan and her team entitled Auditory-Motor Mapping Training as an Intervention to Facilitate Speech Output in Non-Verbal Children With Autism: A Proof of Concept Study, showed that associating sounds to speech gestures can be greatly improved when music is introduced in the training for autistic children. When auditory-motor mapping training is repeated and successfully reinforced with music, there is a great chance that autistic kids will find it easier to trigger their speech responses when situations necessitate.

Music Stimulates Social Interaction

Encouraging autistic kids to engage more in social interactions can be a very tough task for parents and even therapists. But a study conducted by Kim, Wigram, and Gold in 2009 pointed out that music therapy is one of the more productive sessions for autistic children in terms of the level of social interaction. The research talks about the increase of emotional response that autistic children express when they are in music therapy as compared to other types of sessions. There is also a heightened degree of social engagement found in music therapy over other periods, even play sessions, which only means that music is indeed a powerful tool that improves social interactions.

There are many ways how music therapy can achieve an observable increase of social engagements in children with autism. For instance, the therapist can use a set of musical instruments as the medium for interpersonal exchanges, by letting the children try and pass them around. Games that involve connecting motions to sounds, and learning to sing basic and familiar songs can also be a fun and effective way to improve social interactions.

Music Improves Autism-Specific Behaviours

In a 2012 research paper published by Universiti Sains Malaysia in the leadership of C M See, the overall behaviour of autistic children was seen to improve following a successive set of weekly music therapy sessions. Despite lasting only for an hour, such music therapy sessions showed positive results to the 41 children who’ve undergone the test for a period of over ten months. See divided the 41 children into two groups based on their age, one group aged 2 to 10, while the other group aged 11 to 20. See and his team also developed a special behavioural checklist to be used in this research and introduced two types of music therapy sessions alternately. Behaviours of the children are then assessed at the end of each month through the checklist.

The overall results of the study indicated an improvement in the inattentive behavior types in both groups of children, specifically on aggression, restlessness, noisiness and tantrum tendencies. More than half of each group showed one to two points of improvement in the behavioural scale which signified that the music therapies can possibly correct undesirable autism behaviours in ideal set ups.

Music Relieves Anxiety

Because of sensory sensitivity issues, autistic children are more vulnerable to anxiety attacks than their neurotypical peers which can pose more serious health risks and social adversities if not addressed quickly and effectively. For this specific topic, the University of Wisconsin La Crosse conducted a 4-week study in 2006 to identify if there’s a positive relationship between music therapy and anxiety levels of autistic children. Using rhythmic music for their 20-minute sessions, subjected children were observed to exhibit lower levels of anxiety which led to improvement in their overall behaviour. Throughout the 16 music therapy sessions, the study also emphasized that the type of music which provided the most positive results is classical music, along with other genres that have a steady rhythm.

With these research findings trying to establish a positive connection between music therapy and autism condition, parents and intervention institutions are encouraged to introduce music to their programs and training for better results. However, it must be considered that not all children will respond positively to such therapy sessions and music, in particular. There have been cases of ineffectiveness and regression because of certain underlying factors, so it is much better to know first whether the child is interested in music in general or not.