Autism and Music Therapy

The non-verbal and non-threatening nature of music makes it useful in reaching children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. This is especially true of many autistic children that seem to have a special fascination, and at times unusual sensitivity to music. Music can be paired with social and educational activities to enhance their usefulness.

When you stop and think about the combination of autism and music therapy, it’s not hard to see why they are finding a great response to music therapy in autistic children. Pairing music with speech can help increase word usage and more natural inflections in autistic children. Pairing music with games and movement can help to increase socialization and decrease the isolation of autistic individuals. 

Music therapy with autistic clients can help promote communication by giving the individual the opportunity to communicate indirectly through relationship to sounds or an instrument. The stages of music therapy can increase the directness of communication through improvisation in response to the client’s sounds and movement. Responses can be reinforced through the music and gradually one-to-one communication can develop.

Music affects individuals differently, so it is important to use a trained music therapist with autistic individuals. Music therapy techniques that may aid one individual may overload another.  This can increase withdrawal and isolation. The therapeutic relationship must be taken into account to gradually introduce more expectations of the client as trust is built.

Autism and music therapy can also have a positive relationship when the music helps an individual to learn to relate through tactile and visual as well as auditory perception. Music is movement, and through use of simple instruments like drums, xylophones and percussion instruments, movement is enhanced and becomes a means of communication. Structured games and activities can gradually build a repertoire of communicative movement and sound.

Since many autistic individuals respond positively to music it can be a useful re-enforcer for learning, but it can also be an expressive end in itself for some who displays an aptitude to learn an instrument. The pleasurable act of exploring an instrument can be encouraged by the music therapist. Through allowing free expression with guidance, the music therapist can identify a client’s potential to continue on an instrument. Learning to play an instrument can provide a socially valued means of self expression that adds to self-esteem.  It is this capacity that autism and music therapy have their greatest ties.

For more information about autism and music therapy you can get a copy of the book Still a Minstrel.


"Readers will enjoy the struggles of a garage band to the bandstand with local and world-renowned legends. Suess guides us through those years as the music changed us and we reflected those changes in our music"

- Doug Spartz, Founder,
Minnesota Rock/Country Hall of Fame


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