World Autism Awareness Week is back

World Autism Awareness Week is back from 29 March to 4 April 2021. At Nordoff Robbins we work with a variety of people of all ages on the autism spectrum. Our Country Manager (Scotland) and music therapist, Janet Halton, looks at the relationship between autism and music and all the benefits that music can bring.

World Autism Awareness Week is back

World Autism Awareness Week is back from 29 March to 4 April 2021. If you’d like to get involved there are loads of tips and advice on the National Autistic Society’s website. Here you’ll find everything you need to help raise awareness and funds with family and friends.

At Nordoff Robbins we work with a variety of people of all ages on the autism spectrum. Music and music making can bring a lot of benefits and here our Country Manager (Scotland) and music therapist, Janet Halton, looks at the relationship between autism and music and all the benefits that music can bring.

Relationship between autism and music 

We are all innately musical beings. Rhythm is evident in our heartbeat, our walking and our breathing. We use pitch and tone to express ourselves through our voices – not just when we speak but, for example, when we laugh or cry. These musical elements are always there and offer a powerful channel for communication, even for individuals who find expressing themselves more difficult for whatever reason.

When we take part in music making – actively listening and/or playing with another person, we use many different parts of our brain – not only areas that relate to sound but also our senses of sight and touch, our movements, memories and feelings. Our musical experiences offer us opportunities to exercise our ‘neurological muscles’ and promote integration across all areas of the brain.

Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Condition can face a range of different challenges – including difficulties with communication and social interaction; and music therapy can help to support people in these and many other areas of their lives. Autism affects people in different ways, but our flexible, music-centred approach can be tailored to meet individual needs, focusing very much on a person’s existing abilities and their strengths, as well as any challenges, to bring out their full potential.

Through music, we can help establish meaningful communication without necessarily using words, develop an increased awareness of self and others through repeated opportunities for individuals to be heard and responded to, build self-esteem and confidence through creative musical exploration and build emotional resilience and social development in the context of a flexible yet predictable therapeutic environment.

Music calls upon the innate musical responsiveness in all of us and can cross boundaries, providing a unique way to connect, empower and celebrate the individuality of every autistic person.

Benefits of music therapy for people on the autistic spectrum 

Autism affects individuals differently, and as such, the benefits of music therapy will vary, depending on the specific needs of anyone taking part. Music therapy can take place on a 1:1 basis or in groups; and therapists offer a wide range of instruments and, where appropriate, music technology in the sessions, to maximise engagement with people and work with whatever is most motivational and helpful for them.

Music is often improvised in sessions, but it can be more structured and focus on well-known or familiar songs. Music has the unique ability to combine order with freedom; and as such it can be helpful to encourage flexibility, both inside and outside the music room.  Musical patterns (from strongly rhythmic to ‘loose’) can provide what an autistic person needs to help them to regulate their thoughts and brain processes, creating more coherent and adaptable responses to the world around them.

While outcomes of music therapy will vary from person to person, broadly speaking, music therapy can encourage listening skills; encourage spontaneous play; motivate and inspire people to communicate; stimulate language development through songs and turn taking; and engage people in active play which in turn can help strengthen muscles and improve co-ordination. Because music is a social experience and focuses on what we share as human beings, it can help to build positive relationships and opportunities for social interaction. Music can improve concentration; excite imagination and creativity; and provide a means of self-expression when speech is not possible or difficult.

Music is an emotional language and offers a directness of expression that can bypass cognitive processes involving thought and spoken words. It can enable a deep level of emotional support.

 

 

Music therapist, Janet McLachlan shared her experience;

Over the past 25+ years I have had the privilege of making music with many different people on the autism spectrum. Each one of them has inspired me with their own melody, rhythm or song. I feel that it is through music that the uniqueness and creativity of every autistic person can be truly celebrated.

Alman’s story

At the time of his music therapy sessions, Alman was 6 years old and attended a school for children with additional support needs. Alman had autism and an early level of communication skills, using no speech to express himself. Alman generally took time to settle in his class and found it difficult to adjust to routines during his school day.

Alman was referred to music therapy by his class teacher, with a view to encouraging him to develop his communication skills as well as increasing his ability to focus on tasks and improve his attention span.

Read more about Alman’s Story here.

Musical resources you get can involved with at home

 We have created musical resources and activities aimed at people of all ages and abilities to use whilst at home. These range from our fully accessible Online Choir, Singalongs with a music therapist to the Online Afternoon Adult Group for people with disabilities, click below if you’d like to find out more about our musical resources.

Music Resources