I Beg to Differ…Music Therapy Does Help Children with Autism!


I was reading articles this week when I saw some headings that were very upsetting. The articles said that music therapy doesn’t help Autism and that it doesn’t improve symptoms. I have been working as a music therapist for over 15 years with children and adults with Autism. This does not make sense to me because I have seen how music therapy does help children with Autism. It can help them connect with others, learn new skills and bring great joy to their lives.

The articles talked about a research study by Christian Gold of Norway. He studied over 350 children from 9 different countries over a 5 month period. The results of his research were:

“These findings do not support the use of improvisational music therapy for symptom reduction in children with autism spectrum disorder.”

I agree with this research but I don’t agree with the articles because they don’t share all the facts.

Improvisational music therapy is only one of several methods

We use improvisational music therapy in our clinic to help clients express their feelings. This method has clients freely create music with their therapist. They can express themselves using music therefore eliminating the need for talking. This is very useful for children, people with special needs, and seniors with dementia. They can find talking about their feelings difficult or impossible. We prefer improvisational music therapy for clients working on emotional and mental health goals rather than working on reducing symptoms.

Other music therapy methods help children with Autism

Other methods used in music therapy include drumming, singing, writing songs, and musical activities. In our clinic when we work on learning skills and reducing symptoms we prefer musical activities. This looks very different from improvisational music therapy. For example, when we work on taking turns, many musical activities will include sharing, waiting, taking turns, and following instructions. We give our clients lots of ways to learn the same skill. Most importantly, practice is the key to progress. Every week, turn-taking activities are practiced until they are easy. Taking turns is an example of one skill we work on with children with Autism. The sky is the limit when it comes to choosing skills. And when we work on the same skills as the child’s family and therapists it helps them progress faster.

How do I know if my child’s music therapy is helping them?

The best advice I can offer is to trust your gut. Does music therapy make your child happy? Is it something they look forward to each week? Is your therapist talking with you about goals and progress? If so, these are all good signs that music therapy is helping your child. It is important to remember that there are lots of reasons a client may try music therapy. What do you want your child to get out of their music therapy? Once you decide this, it will be easier to know if it is helping. Some families have come to us for years because it is the one activity their child enjoys. For them, learning new skills is not as important as seeing their child enjoy making music.

It is important to remember that there are lots of reasons a client starts music therapy. Just like there are lots of music therapy methods. This research study found that one method (improvisational music therapy) is not helpful for one reason (reducing symptoms). When the right methods are used for the right reasons, music therapy does help.

By Heidi Flynn