Music therapy can be a rich and rewarding addition to a comprehensive treatment program. In fact, it is becoming a more common part of a comprehensive treatment program for children with autism. Many parents seeking out music therapy have children who have been receiving more traditional therapies for many years, but are searching for something that will bring joy and meaning to their child’s life. Music therapy often brings out a child’s inner spirit, laughter, and a twinkle in their eye as they find satisfaction in their participation and creative efforts.
Music therapy treatment with children on the autism spectrum often addresses the four main qualitative impairments: behavior, communication and symbolic play, socialization, and sensory issues. Impaired social interaction affects all areas of a child’s functioning. The most basic of these skills involves motivation to become and remain engaged with another person. Music therapy provides intrinsically-rewarding and motivating practice in appropriate play with objects and creating meaning with others. In addition to the socio-emotional and educational benefits, students receiving music therapy exhibit enhanced social skills, generalization of previously learned skills, improved sensory integration and motor planning, and expanded language and communication skills.
Music therapists use a wide variety of interventions developed to benefit children with special needs. These creative activities provide an emotional outlet of the greatest value which integrates a child’s emotional, physical, and mental experiences. Goal-oriented musical experiences may be receptive or active and may involve such activities as: singing, dancing, imitation and action songs, academically-oriented songs, musical games, or music listening.
But, how does one begin to determine if music therapy may be appropriate for a child with disabilities? The answer may be “yes” if the child:
• easily learns words to songs, but has trouble remembering more “simple
• is more animated and engaged when involved in music activities than when not;
• spends time humming, singing, or vocalizing to himself;
• has his/her first words emerge in song rather than speaking;
• demonstrates improved attention when engaged in music;
• has limited joint attention skills and/or poor imitation;
• needs practice in any of the following:
- organizing sensory information;
- sequencing events;
- being more flexible within a structure;
- generalizing skills;
• rarely engages or interacts with others in a meaningful way;
• has not yet established purposeful communication
While most music therapy services are paid out of pocket, there have been recent advances towards getting reimbursement. In Michigan and Indiana, music therapy is a covered service under the state’s Medicaid Children’s Waiver program; and North Carolina is considering new Medicaid Waiver language that includes music therapy coded as a therapeutic service for support and comprehensive services for individuals with developmental disabilities. And, finally music therapists in several states, including Florida, are actively pursuing state funding for their clients. If your child participates in music therapy, you are encouraged to support these efforts by talking to your Medicaid support coordinator, getting a prescription for a music therapy evaluation or services, and/or discussing the possibility of incorporating music therapy into your child’s educational plan at your next IEP meeting.
For more information about music therapy or finding a music therapist who specializes in working with children with autism can visit the AMTA website at www.musictherapy.org.
by Michelle Reitman,
in Autism Newsletter (June, 2011) from http://www.autismresourcecenterofsouthflorida.com/