We recently wrote about the healing power of music therapy in hospitals. Today, we’re again looking at the power of music, but this time, as an educational resource for children with autism.
Children with autism often have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, but research has shown that they often show an early desire for music education. Researcher Dawn R. Mitchell White is a music education scholar and mother of three children with autism. She has identified three ways in which music education can be used to promote emotional expression and improve the educational experience for children with autism.
The first strategy is to incorporate music into everyday lessons. Working as a teacher, White noticed that when all students were required to participate in music lessons, those who were neurodiverse saw improved emotional communication and even used music to convey how they were feeling. Using songs with lyrics can also help reinforce speech for children who struggle with language. Research shows that singing along to music can considerably improve language skills in children with autism-related language delays. Linking specific concepts to musical cues can also help children learn more effectively, reduce stress, and improve focus.
The second strategy is to teach from an elemental perspective. Children with autism can have auditory sensitivity which creates a lack of tolerance to everyday sounds. The integration of layers of musical elements has been shown to be effective in reducing this sensitivity. Starting with one melody or instrument and slowly building others in upon it teaches children to process this increased auditory stimulation. When children get overwhelmed, educators can remove the previous layer of sound and when children can listen to the entire soundscape, it indicates they are ready to move on to more complex sensory stimulus.
The final strategy is to use online music resources at home to further music-related progress. For children with limited access to music learning in their formal educational setting, parents can use online resources to introduce this concept at home. Khan Academy Music Unit: Instruments of the Orchestra is a great resource for elementary music learning, while Chrome Music Lab and Easy Music iOS are optimal for younger children as they allow the child to explore different musical elements independently without getting overwhelmed. Lastly, Yousician and Flowkey are beneficial for older children as they offer interactive music lessons which can help nonverbal individuals learn to express themselves with music.
Children with autism are often more responsive to sensory stimulation than other children. This is why many children with autism are so musically gifted, but it can also make public settings more stressful. This aptitude for sound-based learning makes music education ideal for improving emotional expression and sound tolerance for children who may not be able to verbally communicate how they are feeling or are easily overwhelmed with auditory stimulus.