“Treating” Autism: Music Therapy


Music is a powerful art form. It is something that is enjoyed universally regardless of what background a person comes from. The benefits of music are exceptional, so much so that it is often used as a form of therapy. What is music therapy? It is the therapeutic use of music to treat certain symptoms or help teach and develop skills. First practiced in the 1940’s, historical medical documents show that practitioners likely used this method with children who had autism (though it was not an existing diagnosis yet).

Music therapy can be used to develop different functions that some children with autism may struggle with such as cognition, communication and emotional regulation. Like many other forms of therapy, music therapy is not guaranteed to be beneficial to every child with autism. Instead, it stimulates areas of the brain that aid in easing the process of learning and performing certain activities of which some people with autism are not familiar. Rather than being used to erase symptoms, it works to educate children with autism on how to enhance certain skills they may struggle with.


Since music engages both hemispheres of the brain, it can help develop cognitive functioning which contribute to language and comprehension advancement. In one instance, there was a child with autism who was not developing communication skills, but could sing lines from songs. This is because these two skills are processed in completely different areas of the brain. With music therapy sessions, he could use his musical abilities to his advantage to develop communication skills.

Not only does it help with verbal communication skills, but it also helps with nonverbal communication as well. Listening to music help children with autism interpret different moods and emotions associated with certain pitches and tones. With this understanding of emotion, children could then be taught how to interpret emotion with body language and facial expressions.


Since both listening to and creating music is such an engaging activity, it encourages involvement and interaction from children who have difficulty doing this on their own. Musical therapists noted that this works best and is most notable with students who really enjoy music. Music sessions allowed the children to be more open and willing to improve their social and attention abilities.

Although music therapy is not a guaranteed way for all neurodivergent individuals to improve cognitive, communicative and emotional functions, it does show definite improvements in certain individuals. Since it is not a risky or strenuous form of therapy, it may be worth a try for parents looking for unconventional forms of therapy to help their child improve or develop certain skills.








  1. This method of therapy is really cool, I never really thought about how it could be used to help people on the spectrum.

  2. I was really intrigued by this topic and it sounds like this is something that should definitely be researched in more detail. Thinking back to Prof. Burke’s lecture on brain plasticity, it looks like music therapy could be used to help neurodiverse individuals compensate, in a sense, for lack of executive function in the same way brain plasticity allows amputees to function without use of a limb.

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