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7 Ways Music Therapy Can Support Autism

"If you've met one individual with Autism, you've only met one individual with Autism." -Stephen M. Shore

First things first...

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by observing differences in social development, communication, repetitive behavior, and sensory regulation (American Psychiatric Association [DSM-5®], 2013)

What is Music Therapy? Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. Services must be provided by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program (AMTA,2018)

In other words...

Music therapy can strengthen deficits associated with Autism such as social interaction, verbal communication, initiating behavior, and social-emotional reciprocity... just to name a few.

How does music affect the brain? Music provides organization, predictability, and sensory integration. Various Music Therapy techniques enhance neural functioning in BOTH hemispheres of the brain, support individuality, and organically supply a ton of motivation!

Here's how...

1. ORGANIZATION: ​the auditory scaffolding theory suggest sounds are sequential and auditory tones are more efficiently tracked throughout the brain. Therefore, gaining information through musical means is typically better understood than other stimuli.

2. PREDICTABILITY: Music's natural precision and repetition create anticipation for action and opportunity for practice. This predicable structure decreases fear responses (the release of cortisol) to sensory stimulation.

Rhythm, pitch, melody, timbre, mixed with nostalgia and novelty of musical selections, all play a role in how our brain perceives and reacts to musical cues.

Rhythmic entrainment can enhance our motor functioning and speech production. While pitch and timbre are connected to our memories and emotional responses.

3. SENSORY INTEGRATION: Our sensory system provides us with information from our environment and body. Musical elements encompass a vast array of sensory information from somatic sensations (tactile, proprioception, and pain), vestibular sensation (balance), auditory sensations, visual sensations, and even olfaction and taste.

Music can provide sensory input through non-threatening and predictable sources. If a person experiences sensory defensiveness or sensory seeking behaviors, appropriate music stimulation (by a board certified music therapist) can help aid sensory integration and regulation.

4. NEUROTRANSMITTER ENHANCEMENT: Contrary to popular belief, music does not just affect left brain activity but has significant impact on all sides of the brain.

There are numerous brain activations from music stimulation that host similar functions as other non-musical areas. This is called having a shared neural network.

Here's an abstract called From Music Making to Speaking: Engaging the Mirror Neuron System in Autism.

Overlapping and Extended networks, similar to shared networks, are just as they sound. They are brain networks that music stimulation might overlap or be an extension of those non-musical areas.

Here's an article to support the overlap between music and speech called Neural Overlap in Processing Music and Speech.

Neuroplasticity is the forming of new neural connections through each piece of information our brain receives. Music, in a sense, primes the brain for information and enhances neuroplasticity. Music stimulation helps makes these new connections even stronger through all the points we've mentioned before (organization, predicability, and sensory input). This can be extremely helpful for brains with neural connection issues, as seen in many people with Autism.

Check out this article called How Music Enhances Learning Through Neuroplasticity.

Here's the deal... through these concepts music therapy interventions can be used to aid in the rehabilitation or development of every day functioning like speaking, walking, grasping, completing activities of daily living, and much, much more.

5. INDIVIDUALITY: Preference is key! Music therapy interventions are structured around preferred musical tastes.

So, if you fancy The Bangles to get you grooving into your Manic Monday or little Lionel Richie on an Easy Sunday every music therapy session will revolve around your likings. Maybe you're not into pop music at all and prefer the beat of your own drum. Your music therapists will be sure to provide an eclectic array of musical experiences just for you.

6. ADAPTABILITY/INCLUSION: You do NOT need to be musically inclined to receive the benefits of music therapy. Music therapists are highly trained to provide the most appropriate music experience for whomever they are working with. Music is for everyone and comes in all shapes and sizes just like us! Music therapists are trained to utilize all forms of music including voice, guitar, piano, percussive instruments, music technology, and more.

7. Motivation: Music has always been and continues to be a part of every culture near and

far. We use music to celebrate and mourn, for storytelling and self-expression, to get us moving or comfort our wounds because we all have a primal connection to music stimulation.

Music, because of all the reasons mentioned above, elicits strong emotional connections that are tied to our memories and schemas (how we organize the information we learn). We use these connections to seek the perfect balance of excitement and comfort which lead us to our musical preferences and drives our motivation.


For more information about Music Therapy in Fort Myers, Florida (and surrounding areas) visit

There will be more music therapy topics to come, including...

  • Music Therapy and Speech/Language

  • Music Therapy and Dementia

  • Music Therapy and Mental Health

  • Rebuilding a Music Therapy practice in Fort Myers, Florida

  • and more...

Contact The House of Music Therapy (Fort Myers, Florida) by email or by phone (727)755-4373.

Stop by and say "Hi" on our Facebook page @thehouseofmusictherapy

Thanks for reading!

Ana-Alicia Lopez, MT-BC

Music Therapist-Board Certified

The House of Music Therapy

Let's make music today for a more beautiful tomorrow!

¡Música para todas las mañanas bonitas!

Keywords: Music Therapy, Autism, Fort Myers Music Thrapy, SWFL, Southwest Florida, Developmental Differences, Therapy, Music Therapy and Autism

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