There has been so much research done on music as autism therapy that I couldn’t possibly address the multitude of positive effects from it in one post. What I will do here is discuss the effects that I have seen with Nigel, including increased verbal skills, better sensory integration, and calming influences.
According to the Autism Research Institute, “Autistic children have also made enormous strides in eliminating their monotonic speech by singing songs composed to match the rhythm, stress, flow and inflection of the sentence followed by a gradual fading of the musical cues.” In his early years, Nigel watched a ton of Disney videos from which he learned to use echolalia as a means to communicate. These Disney videos also had songs that he would memorize that taught him rhythm and voice inflection, and from them he gradually gained the verbal skill of using his own words.
As he got older, Nigel began to pay more attention to the music I listen to, which is a mix of classic rock, alternative, techno/dance, world, celtic, and more. I noticed that the categories that feature harder, faster beats (some rock and techno) seemed to help with his sensory integration. He learned how to filter sounds that previously had caused him to go into sensory overload, like air hand driers in public restrooms and other loud, mechanical sounds. And now, he likes the music for its own sake; he rotates his favorite CDs on his own stereo (mostly movie soundtracks like Twister, Back to the Future, and Cars) and sings along.
When he wants to unwind and relax, he turns to some more of my music. I am happily employed by a company called New Earth Records, a spiritually conscious music label specializing in New Age, world, trance, healing music, and Osho meditations. Nigel enjoys the beat and different instruments (sitar and sarangi) of James Asher’s Tigers of the Raj, the relaxing trance rhythms of Cybertribe’s Immortality (Nigel says: “It relaxes away the stress of the day”), and the beautiful melody of Lisa Lynne’s harp on Love & Peace. When I put on Deuter’s Sun Spirit, Nigel commented how much he liked the cover (Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees”) and said that the music made him feel “like you’re in the Renaissance.” Another title of Deuter’s that I play is Earth Blue, which makes Nigel say, “I feel like I want to sleep.” For someone with occasional insomnia, that’s invaluable, as are all the benefits of listening to music.
I highly recommend playing music for an autistic child (and every child), not only as an effective therapeutic device, but also for the soothing value of it. Music adds to the quality of one’s environment and life in so many ways.