Music and Autism

Can an autistic child learn music?

There have been many studies of the effects of music and autism. The part of the brain associated with music making is usually undamaged in autistic people often resulting in heightened interest and response. Yes they probably can!

Some Conclusions

The benefits of music and the brain are available to autistic children.

The part of the brain that develops with music is fully functional in most autistic students. Children who learn music experience IQ raising in the areas that concern mathematics, language and spacial reasoning. They also enjoy a reduction in mood disturbance making their lives more enjoyable.

The program must be specific, non-threatening and social.

Because music can become a great joy autistic students can shut out the world and focus only on their music. Although they would experience the intellectual advantages of music on the brain the further loss of communication would be a disaster. Therefore a group based environment either with other children, a parent plus teacher or caregiver plus teacher is really necessary.

Autism is a developmental disability that usually appears during the first three years of life. The cause is unknown. It affects how a person’s brain works, but not all people with autism are affected the same way.
When a person has autism, they may have problems:

  • letting you know what they want;
  • thinking;
  • understanding what other people say or want;
  • ignoring sounds;
  • ignoring things or people that are moving;
  • ignoring lights;
  • being touched;
  • understanding social rules;
  • showing affection;
  • controlling their feelings;
  • knowing how to play with other kids; and
    dealing with changes.


Autism is a “spectrum disorder.” That means that not everyone with autism has all the problems. One person may have three of the problems listed while another person has only one. Some people with autism struggle to learn. Other people with autism are very smart and can do complicated math when they are 3 years old. Some people with autism have trouble being touched while others like to hug.
Many people with autism like to do things in the same order all the time and have things arranged the same way. This helps them stay calm.
Other people with autism have a very hard time ignoring noises, especially if they are upset or in a new situation. They may try to calm themselves by rocking, moaning, talking loudly or even screaming. The moaning, talking or screaming helps them drown out the other noises so they can calm down. They may also try to go under a desk or in a small, dark place where they feel safer.

by Bev Adcock and Michael L. Remus Download full PDF

Music Therapy and Autisic Children
Before there was language, there was music. Repetition, rhythm, melody, tone, duration, volume-all the facets of music working separately and together can unlock children sealed off from the world by Autism. On Music Therapy and Autistic Children, Christopher Purdy examines the effects of music therapy on autism.
Listen to this broadcast by clicking here

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Musical interaction therapy

Wendy Prevezer (1990) has described her use of musical interaction therapy with children with autism at Sutherland House School. Prevezer used music to reinforce the work she was doing in speech and language therapy, and not as a medium with its own healing potential. Her method differs from the profession of music therapy in that the musical interaction therapy practitioner is not required to be a musician nor to have trained at one of the recognized (APMT) training courses. (See also Chandler, 1997; Christie and Wimpory, 1986; and Wimpory et al, 1995.)

Read the full article.

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