autism, music therapy, music therapy for autism, neurologic music therapy, singing, special needs

Autism Parents: Give your child enhanced perception through music

As holiday festivities are in full swing, I want to encourage parents to consider making their lives a musical on behalf of their child. Give them the gift of enhanced perception through music. “Fronto-Temporal Connectivity is Preserved During Sung but Not Spoken Word Listening, Across the Autism Spectrum,” published in Autism Research on November 5, 2014,  reveals evidence that can help you greatly enhance your child’s perception.

TymmeAuthors Megha Sharda, Rashi Midha, Supriya Malik, Shaneel Mukerji, and Nandini C. Singh, include MRIs from both neurotypical and ASD brains that reveal  “functional fronto-temporal connectivity, disrupted during spoken-word perception, was preserved during sung-word listening in ASD, suggesting alternate mechanisms of speech and music processing in ASD. Our results thus demonstrate the ability of song to overcome the structural deficit for speech across the autism spectrum and provide a mechanistic basis for efficacy of song-based interventions in ASD.”

In other words, singing, rather than speaking to someone with autism, may be just what their brain needs. Although the research doesn’t reveal how the quality of singing affects this process, I’m going to confidently encourage you to sing to your child regardless of vocal training, or lack thereof. It may feel silly and ridiculous, especially at the grocery store, but try to sing every verbal interaction with your child. And if someone gives you a weird look at the mall, just tell them that you’re activating bilateral temporal brain networks by singing rather than speaking to your child. You’ll look brilliant, particularly when you add, “Don’t tell me you learned your ABCs by speaking rather than singing them to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star!” Who says neuroscience can’t be fun?

Here are 4 recommendations for incorporating more music into your child’s life:

1. Change the words to a familiar song. For example, take the tune of Happy Birthday and sing, “Do you have to go potty? Do you have to go potty? Let’s go find the bathroom so you can go potty.” When they come down to the kitchen in the morning, see how they respond to a new version of Frere Jacques, “Are you hungry? Are you hungry? Little Angie. Little Angie. Would you like some pancakes? Or maybe some bacon? Let’s eat now. Let’s eat now.”

2. Make up a brand new song and record it on your newfangled technology so that you’ll remember it.

3. Use the music preferred by your child whenever possible. If she has a favorite cartoon, change the words to one of the cartoon’s songs. If he has a favorite band, rewrite the chorus of a tune he plays over and over.

4. Share recordings of these songs with your family, friends, and the allied health professionals working with your child so that you’re all reinforcing the same language, creating more structure in your child’s life, and most importantly, enhancing your child’s perception.

While you’re at it, share your particularly successful songs with the world so that more and more families can experience your brilliance. I’d love to hear your ideas!

Angie Kopshy, MM, MT-BC
Angie Kopshy, MM, MT-BC

Music Therapy Services of Portland is directed by board-certified music therapist, Angie Kopshy. Upon completion of her Master’s in Music from Boise State University, Angie returned to Portland to study music therapy at Marylhurst University. Angie opened Music Therapy Services of Portland in January of 2009 and incorporated additional training in both neurologic music therapy and autism in order to create a practice that focuses specifically on children with autism. Angie is also a singer/songwriter with the band, Stoneface Honey.

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