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Benefits of Music Therapy for Autism Disorder

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2773 words Published: 20th Apr 2018

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Using relevant theories and examples, analyse how music therapy can help to treat autism disorder



Music therapy is rooted in the work of psychoanalysts (Freud, Jung, and Watzalwick), music teachers (Willems, Dalcroze) allied with in-depth music studies (Schaeffer, Sachs).

Definition –Although there are different conceptual models in music therapy, it is possible to distinguish the music practices intended only for sick patients from music practices used as a tool for personal development and are therefore accessible to all.

Music therapy is a “non-verbal psychotherapy that uses corporo – sonoro – nonverbal expressions to develop a relationship between the therapist and those who need support to improve the quality of their lives and reintegrate into society. It also aims to produce social, cultural and educational changes in the ecosystem and to act on the primary prevention of community health. “(The Benenzon model).

Music therapy comes against psychoanalytic theory which conceives language as essential to the revelation of the unconscious. It is based in fact on the development of the relationship and the therapeutic process through non-verbal communication called ‘ analogue communication ‘ by Watzalwick.

Music therapy is conceived as psychotherapy, that is to say a relationship between two individuals, one of whom, by his knowledge and experience, will try to transform the other by influencing him.

-The development of music therapy (historical perspectives)

Most traditions all over the world in a way or another say: In the beginning was the Word. If science speaks of a big bang theory to describe the birth of the universe, it is not pure coincidence.

In the Egyptian history, the god Thoth had created the world with a loud cry. In the Old Testament, it is the sound of trumpets that destroyed Jericho. From the earliest times, the sound is described as a creative or destructive element.

Some of Plato and Pythagoras ideas had created a real focus on a system based on philosophical harmony. In their concept, music was part of integrated mathematics.

In the Greek civilization, music therapists already existed and they were suggesting various instruments to influence the mood of people. “According to the evil, they chose the aulos (old musical instrument) in an ecstatic and moving game or the sweet and harmonious lyre.” Patrick Alderman (1981) – Music and Medicine – Stock Music.

In Chinese philosophy, Confucius stated: “Enjoy music, it is the formation of inner harmony.” This practice is still used by the Tibetan lamas.

In Africa, traditional music, very rhythmic and loud, is used for ceremonies but also to generate altered states of mind.

And since World War 1, science is having a new look at the effects of music. This research is shown mainly in the works of Anglo -Saxon authors such as Schoen and Gatewood (1927), Hevner (1936) , Carpuco (1952) and Cattell ( 1953). In parallel, several French authors focused on the meaning of music and some of them attempted to develop a theory. These include Frances, Imberty, Jost, Pratt, Simon and Werbick.

Music therapy and mental illness (music as a special way of communication can help to explore the inner world of people with mental disorder?)

In hospitals and retirement homes, we approach more and more people losing their autonomy with methods of music therapy. Musical instruments have a power of attraction on real people and are used more frequently to encourage older people to break their isolation by participating in musical activities in a group. People suffering from severe psychological problems respond very well to music too. Often aggressive behaviours are absorbed through music. Children with intellectual disabilities have shown to develop, it seems that music arouses in them an unexpected receptivity and currently science is exploring all avenues to develop its curative powers.

-Music therapy and autism

Music therapy is a relatively new method of treatment for autistic patients, but often forgotten when different options are discussed. Music therapy Patients often show improvements in temperament and learning. Music connects to the non- verbal part of our brain, making it an ideal treatment for disorders in which the patient has difficulty communicating, such as autism.

Music therapy is effective because it can be used in conjunction with social skills training. Many games can be made using music to help improve the social and behavioural skills. By encouraging eye contact while singing or using instruments, music therapy can help autistic children to break down social barriers with people.

Music therapy can help children and older autistic patients to develop speech skills. Music is a way to connect verbal and nonverbal functions in the brain. Autism may have various forms of speech disorders. Some can only hum, grunt, or make other noises, while others are carried to repeat absurd sentences, babbling and screaming. Others again come to develop sentences to communicate with the world, although they generally lack emotion. People with autism are known to speak in a monotone. However, no matter how the individual behaves with speech, he or she can participate in a music therapy, tapping rhythms or humming.

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Autism patients are generally considered particularly suitable for music therapy. Some, for example, have a very high pitch. Others may play very well a particular instrument, with little instruction. Even if your child shows no capacity to be a musical genius, you will often find that the autistic person has musical abilities beyond his other abilities. A music therapist can use music as a way to link this type of learning with other types of learning, not only for the development of language and social behavioural development as previously discussed, but also as a means to communicate their emotions and develop memory.

Using these techniques in conjunction with other therapies, music therapy can do wonders with autism. Skilled professionals can use music to teach children and others how to communicate non-verbally, which makes learning easier for patients.

Therapeutical approaches to autism:

Music Therapy

Studies have reported positive effects of music therapy with children and adolescents in the treatment of autism. The reported benefits include increased vocalizations, verbalizations, and gestures, understanding vocabulary, and attention-related task, acts of communication, symbolic play skills and personal care, as well as decreased echolalia (automatic repetition of phrases as we understand them). Researchers also observed improved body awareness and coordination, and decreased anxiety. However, results have been inconclusive in respect of the effect on the behaviour problems. It also remains important to clearly define the long-term benefits.

To plan an intervention, music therapists choose their activities from a myriad of approaches and possible musical experiences (improvisation, listening to music, instrumental performance, cognitive learning through music, etc. . .) according to the autism patient. With respect to the material used, the therapist can compose music or songs himself, or draw on the repertoire of music for children; it is rich in simple ditties, has regular repeats that facilitate teaching exercises. As for musical instruments available to the participants, it can be, in addition to those used by the therapist, synthesizer, various percussion, wooden xylophone, flutes, a “rain stick “etc. . . Once the person is comfortable, the therapist can include various instruments in the exploration of the environment made by the child. Gradually, once there is a non-verbal communication through instruments, the speaker can begin to encourage a form of verbal communication directly related to the music, if the case is suitable.

Favourite music can be used for a wide range of cooperation activities in order to work on social behaviour. In a group, to get a ball from one child to another, the sound of music or playing the drum set would be, for example, the means used to generate interaction. We can also practice problem solving using a dotted history of sound effects and music, etc. . . . Gradually, new measures are introduced (walking, sitting, sleeping, etc. . .) And the speaker gradually decreases its own participation. Once the music is completely eliminated, the child has been able to construct sentences in response to questions “What is it? ” and ” what is the doll doing ? ” this learning was probably facilitated by the presence of music and the view of another associated object . Note also that, even if the words of some songs do not always appear important for everyday use, the simple fact of the match is an important step in teaching some children. According to Myra J. Staum (1997), following an intervention, if a student forgets the words or sentences acquired, it is conceivable to remind him by making him hear the song again.

The discovery of his own body and the space around it is another aspect in which music therapy can be useful in the autistic individual. Some therapists use e.g. ” marches ” and bring the children to walk to the beat of the latter; music and a different rate is then used to ensure that subjects develop a repeating pattern when walking . Many autistic children are also invited to dance: by doing so, they are encouraged to trust the speaker, to develop a better eye contact and a greater awareness of physical contact. Similarly, dancing to different styles of music, the individual can learn to become familiar with change and synchronization, etc. . . .

As a sum-up, we can see there are dozens of ways in which music can be used for therapeutic purposes for children with autism. Many aspects, from the birth of a collaboration till extended periods of attention through language acquisition or socially acceptable behaviour, are likely to be among the objectives achieved in a music therapy program ; To achieve this, you just need patience, time and a skilled speaker.

– improvising (group and individual)

With music therapy in autism, It is not just about “playing a tune” to entertain the patient. It is a work on the sound, the waves and the vibration. It should have a large array of improvisation in all its forms, and include the greatest possible number of musical aesthetics. This includes Western and non-European modes , rhythms and varied tempos, classical sounds of the instrument and voice or sounds using harmonics, different noises , many major keys , minor , traditional , pentatonic modes , exatoniques , atonal music, a wide range of frequencies of the most serious to the most acute of the instrument etc. …

Active musical therapy consists of expressions with suitable music instruments. It can be self-expression or specific exercises that each has a function. We can thus work on the exchange and communication, frustration, recovery of personal image, memory and concentration improvement in cognitive abilities, body awareness, imagination and creativity, fine motor skills and body address, autonomy.

– dance and movement

Reflection in and on the physical, emotional and subtle body is an essential element of dance therapy and movement. Through improvisation and creation, it determines new body experiences in a wider field of motion perception by more precise specificities. This practice promotes the direct expression, preverbal, nonverbal and verbal communication and the environment. It manages the senses problems and diseases based on experience, stimulating the capacity to act and personal creativity. The dance therapy and movement brings the person to a healthy dynamic.

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As explained Nicole Harbonnier-Topin, Professor of motion study and director of senior cycle programs of the Department of Dance at the University of Quebec at Montreal, dance therapy involves several systems of neurological function: the awakening and rest, emotional regulation, implicit and explicit memory, the mirror system and the integration of the right brain versus left brain. As the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are involved in the process of movement, resulting in regulation of emotions that can help counteract the anxiety and some types of depression. There is indeed a body consciousness that brings us into intimate relationship with ourselves. So when we dance, there is a release of tensions and pressures which are in our body’s memory.

Autism: Individuals with autism, when they apply the instructions in dance therapy sessions, find the concentration needed and make the right moves, and with an assurance that they do not necessarily have daily life.

(Please use relevant theories and example to explain why these musical interventions are effective treatment for autism disorder)

Criticism of music therapy

So far, music therapy proved to be beneficial. It did not show any harm or any recession of the patients.

Dance therapy can approach our problems gently and carefully. It is a powerful for physical and mental wellness “tool”. Talent is secondary to take pleasure to dance.

Dance therapy Figures are diverse and this therapy has been one of the methods used in taking care of sick people and has multiple indications: the ordinary neurosis with autism, through anxiety, depression, addictions, psychosomatic diseases, psychiatric disorders, light and deep, motor and mental disabilities.

All dance genres are possible.


  • bio-dance gestures based on touch and feel, reviving the notion of tenderness
  • primitive dance – succession of repetitive movements promoting relaxation of the mind.
  • shamanic dance inspired from rituals of primitive societies.


Music is a versatile tool for intervention with autism

Music therapy has been proven beneficial in several areas: in the past it has shown its positive influence on blood pressure, pain perception, respiratory problems, stress, etc. .

In the specific case of autism and people with pervasive developmental disorders, music is certainly an interesting option for several reasons.

First, the music is a form of nonverbal communication; it is an ideal way to get in contact with children experiencing difficulties in communicating, which is a very common feature in autism. Non-verbal and non-threatening nature of the medium is also an asset. On the other hand, the music acts as a natural reinforcer, which can help students develop skills that are not musical; almost everyone is likely to respond positively to at least one kind of music. It is a versatile tool that can reflect the individual skills of each individual.

In another area, it has been noted repeatedly that autistic individuals often have a particular sensitivity to music. Some will react to certain sounds; others however have an “absolute” ear for music, a property that would make many musicians envious!

In summary, several reasons make music an interesting therapeutic tool for autism.

Music captivates and holds attention- it stimulates and uses several areas of the brain.

Music structures time in a clear and understandable way (“this is the song of goodbye, the session is almost over!”)

It provides a pleasant and meaningful context for rehearsals necessary for some learning

It creates a safe and structured social context for the verbal and nonverbal communication

This is a very effective memory aid

It supports and encourages movement

It facilitates interaction and promotes self-expression

It embeds itself in memory and emotions

It often promotes a sense of community since it unites people of all skill levels, all able to participate in a way or another.

Bunt, L. (1994) Music Therapy: An Art beyond Words. London: Routledge.


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