GUEST POST FRIDAY & FREE Offer! Music to your ears!

Michelle Lazar, owner of Tuned In To Learning, wrote today’s guest post on music therapy.

Michelle Lazar, Autism Specialist and Music Therapist

She’s generously included a coupon code for my readers to receive a free month on any of Tuned in to Learning’s subscription products. Coupon Info:

Use this Coupon Code to redeem your free month: ARMsub

In order to help support families and educators working with children and adults with autism and special needs, Tuned in to Learning offers music therapy for special education products. In recognition of ARM and its readership, we’d like to extend a special coupon code for a free month on any of our subscription products. Use Coupon Code: ARMsub to redeem your free month!

Music Therapy and Autism:  Tips, Activities and Research

Guest post by Michelle Lazar, MA, MT-BC, Autism Specialist and Music Therapist As Music Therapists, we see the smile that appears on our students’ faces when we bring out the guitar or start singing one of their favorite songs. Music helps create a joyful connection which we can use as an in-road to target more challenging or non-preferred tasks.  While we experience these positive results, what is the scientific basis which supports this intriguing relationship between music and autism and how can parents and professionals use music to help their child or students?

What is Music Therapy?  Similar to speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists, music therapists undergo years of training including an undergraduate or graduate degree in music therapy, 1200 hours of clinical training and board certification which must be renewed through continuing education every five years.  The governing body for the Certification Board for Music Therapists (The National Commission for Certifying Agencies) is the same agency which accredits board certified behavior analysts and occupational therapists. Common services provided by music therapists for individuals with autism:

  • Private therapy in the home or therapy clinic
  • Collaborative treatment with speech therapists, ABA providers, and occupational therapists
  • Workshops to help parents, teachers, and therapists integrate music as a teaching tool
  • Adapted music lessons

Examples of music therapy interventions for children with autism and other special needs, drawn from the fields of Neurologic Music Therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis include:

  • Musical Mnemonics to Assist in Memorization
  • Developmental Speech and Language Training Through Music
  • Rhythmic Speech Cuing
  • Symbolic Communication Training Through Music
  • Musical Attention Control Training
  • Musical Executive Function Training
  • Music as a Reinforcer
  • Music to Teach Intraverbal Skills
  • Music-Cued Social & Communication Scripts

Autism and Music Research It’s exciting to see the body of research relating to autism and music grow each year. This research lends support to the field of music therapy and serves as a great reminder that individuals with autism DO have strengths and talents that can blossom through the years.   Studies have found that individuals with autism show equal or superior abilities in pitch processing, memory for melody, labeling of emotions in music, and musical preference when compared to typically developing peers. In addition music has been found to be an effective intervention for autism in areas including:

  • Increased peer interaction
  • Speech output
  • Compliance
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Decreasing vocal stereotypy
  • Receptive labeling

For an up to date list of studies relating to music and autism click here . Sabrina’s Story Nothing is more powerful than seeing the scientific results of music therapy studies put into practice with our own students.  Take the story of Sabrina, a 3-year old who was recently diagnosed with autism. Although Sabrina could only utter one to two words at a time she was able to sing entire songs from memory, stringing together long sentences of 7-8 words.  A ray of hope in this critical period of early intervention, Sabrina’s school enlisted the support of a music therapist to aid in her communication development.  Working in collaboration with Sabrina’s teacher, parents, and speech therapist, the music therapist designed specialized speech songs for Sabrina to practice at home and school. Instead of using typical children’s songs, the music therapist designed individualized songs that contained only words that Sabrina could use on a practical level, such as saying hi to a friend, labeling objects, or asking for her favorite toy. After several months of intensive practice, the song melodies were slowly faded, allowing Sabrina to say the same phrases without needing the songs. At such a young age, music was an ideal therapy tool to advance Sabrina’s confidence and success in communicating with others.  Five Ways to Use Music to Help Children with Autism

  1. If your child can’t fill in the last word to a song phrase, give them a movement to imitate instead. This will help make your child feel successful even if they are still learning to talk.
  1. Set a Social Story™ to a familiar children’s tune or chant it to a rhythmic beat. Melody and rhythm make the script easier to remember and can help add variety when reading the same story multiple times.
  1. Use novelty to increase motivation. For example, sing in a silly voice, create sound effects, or bring out the bubbles!  This can be especially effective if your child appears fatigued or more difficult to engage during instruction.
  1. Choose relevant musical rewards!  For example, if you are working on colors, allow your child to play a rainbow xylophone after identifying color flashcards, or sing “Old MacDonald” as a reward after your child completes an animal puzzle. Another way to approach musical rewards is to incorporate them within the task itself.  Using this method, the child may actually identify colors on the xylophone itself rather than receiving the xylophone as a reward after identifying colors on flashcards. Embedding motivators into instruction is a common approach during Pivotal Response Treatment®, which is frequently used by ABA providers.
  1. Help your child tap their hand to a beat with each syllable when working on speech imitation.

Undeniably, music influences the brain on both a logical and emotional level.  This means that music is not only fun, but a sound way to help your child develop important educational and developmental skills. Music therapy can be beneficial for children of all ages and functioning levels. To find a music therapist in your area, visit the American Music Therapy Association at Special Coupon for Blog Readers In order to help support families and educators working with children and adults with autism and special needs, our sister company Tuned in to Learning offers music therapy for special education products. In recognition of ARM and its readership, we’d like to extend a special coupon code for a free month on any of our subscription products. Use Coupon Code: ARMsub to redeem your free month!

Music Therapy Resources

About the author

Michelle founded Coast Music Therapy in 1999 in order to expand opportunities available for families seeking San Diego music therapy services to give their child a new approach to learning. In addition to her degree in music therapy, Michelle completed her graduate studies with a specialization in autism and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) at San Diego State University. Michelle has served on numerous special needs non-profit boards and was awarded the Volunteer of the Year award by the Combined Health Agencies and San Diego Autism Society for her efforts. She currently is on the advisory committee for The Songstream Project and The California Music Therapy State Recognition Task Force. Michelle is also the co-creator of the Tuned in to Learning® a music-assisted learning curriculum, designed for special education and IEP support.


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