Music Therapy & Autism

Music Therapy Improving Language Skills in Children with ASD

By: Katie Hemler

The diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has astronomically increased to 1 in 68 children being diagnosed with ASD ("Facts about ASD," 2014). No one child with ASD is the same, so it is important to develop intervention strategies that can adhere to their specific needs. Recent Studies suggest Music Therapy holds the key to developing language in Autistic children.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

  • The cause of ASD is unknown. There are links to genetics and environmental factors ("Facts about ASD," 2014)
  • Early signs of ASD: avoiding eye contact, preferring not to be held or cuddled, no reaction when name is called, and the regression of already developed skills ("Facts about ASD," 2014)
  • Incurable, but medications to subside symptoms and interventions to target specific difficulties
  • Individual with ASD have difficulties with communication, social interactions, and/or repetitive behaviors and interests (Gattino, Riesgo, Longo, Leite, & Faccini, 2011)
  • Regression of language is typically the first red flag!

Language Difficulties and ASD

  • It is common for children with ASD to demonstrate difficulties in expressive and/or receptive language (Silverman, 2008).
  • Children with ASD often develop unusual speech features, including atypical prosody, echolalia, pronoun reversal, and an over all lack of motivation to communicate (Silverman, 2008).
  • Most children with ASD demonstrate difficulties with semantics, pragmatics, and prosody (Lim, 2010).

What is Music Therapy?

  • Intervention used to develop fine and gross motor coordination, attention span, self-confidence, social-interpersonal skills, and verbal and nonverbal communication (Lim, 2010)
  • Uses singing and interments throughout session
  • Instructed by certified Music Therapist
  • Has been used for decades with Autistic children
  • Studies have shown that music therapy is especially effective in improving the communicative abilities of children with ASD (Lim, 2010)

Music therapy and ASD

Music is made up of different components, including pitch, rhythm, harmony,melody, form, dynamics, and timbre (Lim, 2010). These different components are arranged in patterns that allow the listener to guess what is coming next, other wise known as musical pattern perception (Lim, 2010). Studies have shown that children with ASD have a remarkable sense of musical pattern perception, specifically rhythm and melody (Lim, 2010). The two components rhythm and melody used in music are similar to those used in speech. This suggests that the use of music could contribute to the development of language.

Studies have also been conducted to compare the use of speech and language therapy to music therapy. The results determined that higher functioning children with ASD showed equal improvements when being involved in music and speech-language therapy, but lower functioning individuals progressed more when being involved in music therapy (Lim, 2010).

Music is a tool that can be used to improve communication in children with Autism, while also giving them an outlet to be creative and have fun!

How is this related to the media?

Jacqueline Laurita's, from Bravos's television series The Real Housewives of New Jersey, son Nicholas was recently diagnosed with ASD. At 18 months Nicholas stopped responding to his name, speaking, and began regressing with his motor skills. After his diagnoses Nicholas began seeing a Music Therapist, and his family has noticed extraordinary progress in his communication skills.

Here are some ADORABLE videos of Nicholas and his Music Therapist Jammin Jenn!

Frito Song
Happy bday Mommy!!!
Nick sings Old McDonald


  • Facts about ASD. (2014, March 20). Retrieved November 9, 2014, from
  • Gattino, G. S., Riesgo, R. D., Longo, D., Leite, J. C., & Faccini, L. S. (2011). Effects of relational music therapy on communication of children with autism: A randomized controlled study. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 20(2), 142-154. doi: 10.1080/08098131.2011.566933
  • Lim, H. A. (2010). Effect of "Developmental speech and language training through music" on speech production in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 47(1), 2-26. doi: 10.1093/jmt/47.1.2
  • Silverman, M. J. (2008). Nonverbal communication, music therapy, and autism: A review of literature and case example. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 3(1), 3-19. doi: 10.1080/15401380801995068