adaptive music lessons, autism, music therapy, music therapy for autism, special needs

How can you use music for your child with autism?


If you are the parent of a child diagnosed on the autism spectrum, chances are you’ve become increasingly keen on noticing activities to which your child responds positively. And, if you’re anything like the families with whom I work, music might appear to provide connection, relief, enjoyment, and maybe even a glimpse into a personality that is often hidden behind frustration or fear.

How can you enhance this musical connection? As a music therapist, of course I highly recommend consulting a music therapist, but this doesn’t have to be the first step.  Another music therapist and I host a free music therapy group for autism once a month at West Hills Music Therapy Studio. It’s a great way for families to learn more about the structure and concepts behind music therapy as well as the manner in which their child responds to music in a group setting.

There are also a lot of ways in which you can use music at home. One of my favorites is to write a song to teach a skill. If you’re really musical and creative, you can write your own melody and lyrics. Otherwise, consider taking a familiar song and replacing the words with the steps of a task like taking a shower or brushing your teeth.

Another simple way to utilize music is to notice how your child responds to different genres or styles of music. Are there songs that facilitate relaxation, enhance verbalization or foster a physical response? Consider having some of those songs handy and incorporating them into your daily routines. I am a firm believer in a ‘client-centered approach’ when it comes to musical preferences. I would never create a prescriptive CD for a particular diagnosis or impairment because it all depends upon the musical preferences of the individual. In addition, something that may work well  one day may create devastating results on another day. I encourage you to be open minded and expose your child to many different artists, instruments and genres and use what works best for your child even if it isn’t your favorite!

When it comes to incorporating more music into the life of your child, I have one word of caution: If music is on nearly all the time, it might lose impact by becoming more white noise than meaningful sound. Although there may be a time in which this effect is beneficial, also consider that the power of silence may enhance the power of music.


Finally, you may have noticed that your child is particularly responsive to a specific instrument like the guitar, drum or piano. Consider fostering this relationship through adaptive music lessons. There are many music therapists who are highly trained in a specific instrument. For example, I obtained my Master’s in Piano before delving into music therapy. The specialty instruments of some of my colleagues include the french horn, piano, flute, violin and cello.

How ever you are able to incorporate music into the life of your child, I absolutely encourage you to take advantage of the ways in which rhythm, melody, timbre, harmonic structure, and the ability to evoke emotions can light up the brain.

More on the science behind music and the brain coming soon…

Angie Kopshy, Neurologic Music Therapist at Music Therapy Services of Portland

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