For some autistic children, participating in a music class can be overwhelming. Every child is a unique individual and will have different learning styles, but all children can benefit greatly from learning music. Music definitely speaks to my high functioning autistic son, and watching how quickly he learns music is amazing to me. He can listen to a song one time and sing it from memory, is learning to play piano and is coasting right along, and the class he comes home talking the most about is music. Like I mentioned, every child is different, but I want to share what I have learned in my years of experience as a music educator and as a mom with an autistic son and give you ideas on how to teach music to the autistic child.
Music helps with social skills
While in a music class, even if the child is non verbal, they will be able to play instruments, sing (or hum), or do movement in a large group. Music class can be overwhelming to some autistic children, because it is loud and there is so much going on at once. Where they feel like they can’t socially connect to other children in core subject instruction, they can feel successful and like “part of the group” in music class. If your child is taking one on one music lessons or in music therapy, their social skills are still improving as they learn to echo sing, practice following directions with instruments, and work on their listening skills while working with their teacher.
Music helps the child feel successful
Children on the autism spectrum have varying degrees of autism. Communication and verbal skills, cognitive development, and emotional strengths and weaknesses will differ from child to child. Like I mentioned above, I have an autistic son. He gets frustrated in reading, math, and writing, but music just comes naturally to him. When I taught in the classroom, I would have children come into music class and would cover their ears because of the noise. Once they got used to it, or wore headphones to help block out some of the distractions, they ended up being one of the leaders in the group because a lot of autistic children are gifted in music. Even if the child is non verbal, playing an instrument, learning to share and take turns, and visually learning to read the notes will help the child’s brain development. They will end up loving to learn music and you will begin to see it transfer to the core subjects eventually too.
A great book to read about how music and autism go hand in hand for some children is Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism: A Guide for Educators, Parents, and the Musically Gifted
Music helps with anxiety
When my son is having a meltdown due to stress or noise, when he listens to music it helps calm him down. If the noise is bothering an autistic child, giving them a safe quiet place, and a pair of headphones with calming music, will help soothe them. Since autistic children like routine and repetition, playing a melody that repeats or instrumental music with the same rhythm will work great. The child will have a chance to take deep breaths, pat along to the music, and can listen to the same song they’ve heard many times before since it is familiar.
Music helps cognitive development
Music activates and uses both sides of the brain. When a child learns music, they will start forming connections between what they are learning and other subjects. When they sing, they are developing their language skills, learning note patterns and values helps with math skills, and writing the words to a song helps develop handwriting. Music is a universal language, so even if the child has language processing disorder or is non verbal, they hear the same rhythms, melodies, and pitches as every other child and can understand them.
Music is fun
If you are having a hard time reaching your autistic child, try music. You may be amazed to see how quickly they pick up what is being taught. At first, they may push against learning music and it will be uncomfortable, but as they get used to the routine and the predictability with what is being taught, they will thrive. There are so many things a child is learning in music and every single child can feel successful and has the ability to succeed. Not to mention, learning music is really so much fun.
Have you seen a positive connection between music and autism? What are your experiences as a parent or teacher?
If you are a parent, student, or teacher who wants to learn more about music, connect with other musicians, or wants to post their latest videos of what they’ve been working on, I would love for you to join my Facebook group Music Education Connection. Collaborate, learn from each other, and grow new friendships. This is a place to receive encouragement, positive feedback, and to ask questions.
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