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How Does Music Affect Children with Autism

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Music therapy can take a number of different forms, depending on the patient, the settings, and what form of music therapy treatment the patient appears to respond to the most positively. The general process is that the patient is accompanied by a trained music therapist and is placed in a room with musical instruments. The setting is generally non-verbal, which will be further explained below. The patient is encouraged to express him/herself through the use of musical instruments, bodily movement in response to music and other such practices. The idea behind this treatment is that a form of communication other than verbal is utilized, so that the therapist may connect with the child through the music and establish a level-ground of understanding with the child.

Indeed, music is an extremely expressive form of art, and even without lyrics can evoke and portray certain emotions, moods, and occurrences. Thus, a child who is not able to communicate verbally is not missing the ability to communicate entirely, merely the ability to communicate verbally and on a general social level. This serves to isolate the child and prevents an understanding on any level of the child and of the child’ s understanding of his/her surroundings.

Music therapy seeks to extricate this inability to communicate, and the child is likely to be able to express himself through the use of instruments, as well as connecting with the therapist who will use the instruments in his/her presence. The form of music therapy developed by Nordoff/Robbins, 1986 seeks to aid patients in discovering their individual perception and performance, by way of the therapist locating the music of the patient.

This technique encourages expression which is likely to have been restricted or underdeveloped due to the disorder – indeed, in autistic patients the level of expression is often severely restricted. The therapist embarks upon a musical dialogue in which the encouragement of the patient is attempted.  

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