A is for Autism

AThere are some bloggers participating in an A-Z challenge this month, so I thought I’d give it a go. I don’t have a plan for topics yet–Just flying by the seat of my pants!

April is Autism Acceptance Month, and music therapists work with people that are on the autism spectrum. Many of my clients have been on the autism spectrum and each is unique, as all humans are. Here are some of the ways I’ve used music as therapy for people on the autism spectrum:

  • Decreasing Defense Mode: The folks at Autism Experts say the key to helping a child on the autism spectrum learn social skills (or anything) is to help them get out of Defense Mode first. I do this with music by meeting my client where he is and gradually helping him move into a calmer state so he may be more open to learning. If he appears agitated, then I play music that he prefers at a quick tempo in a style that matches his movements or vocalizations. As he entrains to the music, I can gradually slow the tempo down and shift to music that reflects a calm, alert, safe state that he can entrain to.
  • Eliciting Speech: Sometimes the verbal expression a client has does not match what she is actually trying to say. Music therapy can help elicit speech because singing is processed differently in the brain than speech and those neural pathways can be used to train speech. I’ll sing a familiar song to my client and leave a blank. Because of the way that song lyrics are processed and stored in the brain, she is often able to sing the phrase that completes the lyric. Eventually, I can sing functional phrases instead of song lyrics, like, “Please help me,” to assist her in speaking phrases that can help her express what she is actually trying to communicate. As the therapy progresses, we work on fading out the use of singing and music, so that she may speak without those tools, or use the tools in a less obvious way.
  • Addressing Sensory and Movement Differences: Research suggests that sensory and movement differences play a bigger role in autism than social skills or communication differences. Music is uniquely able to assist with starting, stopping, continuing, combining and switching motor action, speech, thought, memory and emotion, through the specific presentation of harmony, melody, rhythm, timbre, and musical and lyrical phrasing.

There is a conflict between those who ask for Autism Awareness and those who seek Autism Acceptance. I encourage you to research these issues and seek information from Autistic Self-Advocates. A music therapist who speaks on this topic frequently is CJ Shiloh at The Musical Autist.