The majority of children I treat as a music therapist have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children diagnosed with ASD often require additional therapeutic support to strengthen their communication, motor coordination, cognition, academic, and social-emotional skills. People often ask me, “does music therapy work for children with autism?” To which I explain that music therapy is an evidence-based treatment option to improve essential developmental skills in children with ASD.
Music therapy for children with ASD is evidence-based, meaning that the interventions implemented are supported by research. The American Music Therapy Association offers an official fact sheet that outlines the literature supporting music therapy as an evidence-based treatment option for children with ASD. Here is the link to access the fact sheet: https://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/bib_autism10.pdf
While research demonstrates the effectiveness of music therapy for children with ASD, I can also attest to the progress I witness as a clinician. For example, many of my young toddler and pre-school aged children make great strides in communication and attention. One child in particular progressed from difficulty demonstrating any form of communication to using consistent non-verbal communication and some verbal communication within a couple years. I have also witnessed children using their voice for the first time as a direct response to the music therapy intervention being provided for the child.
Regarding attention, children who demonstrated difficulty attending for several seconds, eventually participated in a 20-minute session, after engaging in consistent music therapy treatment sessions. The specific use of music and its elements (e.g., rhythm, harmony, melody, pitch, etc.) as it correlates to behaviors and underlying neuromechanisms, makes music therapy effective in its treatment modality. Board-certified music therapists are specifically qualified to provide this treatment due to our intense coursework in music as well as psychology, behavior, neuroscience, and human development.
As always, here is a book recommendation for further reading on the topic. Since speech-language development is often a priority for parents, check-out this book on speech-language training through music: Developmental Speech-Language Training Through Music for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Hayoung A. Lim.