The Sound of Music: Creating Connections Between Music and Autism
For many of us, the ability to communicate with one another isn’t something we stop to think about. We live in a time where the exchange of information, ideas, and feelings can be done with great ease and through diverse platforms. The value of communication becomes so much greater when working with individuals on the autism spectrum. One of the defining characteristics of individuals with autism is their difficulty communicating. Many families describe their inability to communicate meaningfully with their loved one as one of the most painful aspects of autism.
Communicating is not easy for those on the autism spectrum: some individuals have trouble relating to the people around them, while for others the capacity for verbal language is generally lowered. This inability to communicate traps many individuals; unable to truly convey their wants and needs, a barrier is created between themselves and the external world – leading to frustration and isolation.
For years now music has been an avenue to facilitate communication among individuals with autism. Music carries with it the unique quality of being a nonverbal platform that is both creative and emotionally appealing. Such qualities can be used as viable teaching instruments to facilitate social interaction, self awareness, and self-expression – all crucial to the process of communication.
Studies that analyze the physical/acoustic nature of vocal communication have shown the importance of timing, emotional expression, and narrative (understanding the story of a conversation). These are the components that music therapists try to develop in their students.
Music sessions that include instruments, musical games, and group activities stress social interaction and language development. Certain musical games focus on a student’s ability to follow a narrative, asking them to fill in blanks of a story through song; while some activities, like singing, allows students to work on pronunciation and articulation of specific sounds, which leads to language development.
Music has always been integral to the human experience. We resonate deeply with the sounds and emotions music conveys. It communicates so broadly and across various boundaries. For some individuals with autism, music is a bridge to the larger world. It carries with it the possibility of developing language skills, of connecting and understanding people and environments, and of becoming more self aware. By harnessing the intrinsic power of music it is possible to give these individuals the tools to communicate and connect with the world.
For more information about the connections between music and autism, read “Autism, sympathy of motives and music therapy” by Colwyn Trevarthen