How Music Therapy Can Assist Kids With ASD

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is a research- and evidence-based practice in which music is used to assist people to achieve their therapeutic goals.  Registered Music Therapists (RMTs) incorporate many musical and rhythmic techniques to facilitate therapeutic relationships with clients and to address their health, functioning and well-being. You will find RMTs working in many different areas such as health, aged care, early intervention, disability, rehabilitation as well as in private practice. In Australia, Music Therapy is fully endorsed by the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Why is Music Therapy great for children with ASD?

Music Therapy creates a wonderful platform of exploration and creativity for children with ASD. Because each child with ASD presents so diversely, Music Therapy is able to reach children where they’re at and be completely individualised to them. My role as an RMT is to create a safe, therapeutic environment for each child as they explore music as a way to address their goals. Each session looks very different, as each child is so wonderfully different.

How does Music Therapy address goals which are associated with ASD?

In my experience, the most common goals to be addressed in children with ASD are in the areas of communication, social skills, emotional self-regulation and confidence. Music Therapy is unique in its ability to address these goals in a creative way.  For example, if a child requires improved social skills then rhythmic drumming may be a wonderful way to facilitate that.  By encouraging them to play on the drum with me, this child simultaneously learns about turn-taking, sharing, patience, conversational roles and delayed gratification – all important elements of social skills.

The beauty of rhythmic drumming for addressing this goal is that no words are required, which also creates more accessibility for children who are non-verbal.  By taking away the pressure of speaking one-on-one with another person, this child is free to enjoy and explore human communication in a new way.

What kind of techniques are involved in Music Therapy for children with ASD?

In my practice, I aim to provide as much choice and autonomy to each child as possible.  Children with ASD often have very specific and individual interests, so I always incorporate those interests into my sessions.  Sessions may include playing/exploring musical instruments, drumming, songwriting, singing, improvisation, musical narratives during play, literacy games/songs, etc. It all depends on the child’s individual goals and their specific interests.

One of my favourite techniques to use is songwriting.  Songwriting is great for assisting children to process big feelings, learn new processes and self-regulate their emotions and/or behaviour. Often these songs are very simple but always completely individualised.  The fun continues as their song is recorded for use at home!

Music Therapy remains a unique allied health stream which can address children’s goals in a safe, therapeutic environment whilst being creative and fun. If you’d like to know more about Music Therapy in Australia, please visit the Australian Music Therapy Association Website: www.austmta.org.au.

Ashleigh Rowbottom

Registered Music Therapist at Kindred Music Therapy

BPsychSc., BSocSc. (Psych.) (Hons), MMusTh.

music therapy

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