> Music Therapy > What is Music Therapy? > Autistic Spectrum Conditions

Working with people on the autistic spectrum

Music Therapy can be very helpful for those with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum. Involvement in music making can both stimulate and relax a person leading to very positive changes.

Music Therapy with children can:

  • help a child to listen
  • encourage spontaneous play
  • stir a desire to communicate
  • strengthen muscles and improve co-ordination
  • help the child to build relationships
  • improve concentration
  • provide a means of self expression
  • stimulate language development through songs and turn taking
  • excite imagination and creativity

Case study

A is a boy of ten. He is autistic and attends a special school. At the time of referral, he had no language although he could make very loud vocal sounds and was subject to mood swings. It was because of his distress and inability to communicate in a meaningful way that he was referred for music therapy.

In the first months of his therapy, I worked hard to make a connection with A. He was detached from me, made little eye contact and distracted himself by "twiddling" beaters or spinning the cymbal. If I approached him he would move away and my voice would cause him to put his fingers in his ears. Each session, I would watch his movements and reflect them back to him musically. Gradually I sensed a softening of his approach and one day I sang his name very slowly and sustained the note to the end of my breath. To my delight, he turned to me and looked me straight in the eye. He clapped his hands and ran over to me to clap my hands together. We had made contact.

During the following months we found many ways to communicate without arousing his autistic defences. We would watch each other in the mirror in the room, copying gestures as we both made exaggerated movements to play the drums. He found that he could look at me more easily when it was my reflection and this led to some very playful exchanges.

One day A. went to the mirror and studied his face. He very carefully put his finger on his features in turn and clearly said "eye", "nose", "mouth", "ears", "hair". After so many years without language he looked quite thrilled to be speaking. The mirror then became a practice place for sounds and we often sang together the vowel sounds as he formed his mouth into new shapes and pitched his voice.

Many months on, A's sessions are still evolving and he is creative and astonishing in what he can dare to do. He can dance and throw himself excitedly around to the music, sit calmly, smiling, while I play to him, look straight at me as I sing to him or sit at the piano and pick out patterns of notes with great care and focus.

His family report that A. is really starting to want to communicate. He will point to things now and draw their attention to books and pictures. His mood is much more stable and his vocalising more meaningful. A. will soon be approaching puberty and his new creativity and skills of communication will surely assist him to cope with the changes he will experience.

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All Wales Autism Resource
Autism Research Centre
Jacqui Jackson
North East Autism Society
The North East Autism Society provides a wide – and ever growing – range of services for children, young people and adults who have autism spectrum conditions.
Research Autism
Resources for Autism
SNAP (Special Needs and Parents)
SNAP (Special Needs And Parents) is an Essex charity for families with children and young people who have special needs and disabilities. SNAP's aims are to inform, encourage and support parents, allowing them to grow in strength and knowledge so they are better equipped to give the best possible help to their children. SNAP's services include advice and information, a specialist library, specialist talks, training courses, parent & pre-school children groups, activities for children and young people, multi-sensory room, specialist IT suite, sibling support, family counselling, website and directory of information and contacts.