A Critical Look at Music Therapy


Information on music and autism abounds on the Internet. There is even a certification board for Music Therapists. That association has a rubric for autism. Autism Speaks (who should know a thing or two about science) is also getting into the act and creating legitimacy for Music Therapy by featuring a guest blogger who is involved in Music Therapy. 

Ever the optimist, I thought there may be new research that perhaps I had missed amongst the usual noise on autism and Music Therapy. So I went to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) music therapy fact sheets & bibliograpies, in search of what they have on the topic.

This is what I found:

“The literature reports that most individuals with ASD respond positively to music. People with ASD often show a heightened interest and response to music, making it an excellent therapeutic tool for working with them.”

This reminds me of the Psychic Network infomercials of a few years ago: “
Trust us, we’re for real!”

Now, please, don’t get the wrong idea. I’ve blogged about the value of music (“The Role of Musicpreliminary bright spot in research on music – the targeting of non-verbal children with autism. However, this should not be confused with the fashion de jour Music Therapy that is being offered. This new area of research is experimental and developing in the field of Neurology. Hopefully, more evidence will soon be collected regarding these experimental techniques and non-verbal children with autism will hopefully have an effective treatment for speech impairment at some point in the future.

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What are your thoughts about Music Therapy?

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Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D. on Twitter
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.
Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.

Sociologist (Ph.D. Stanford '95), autism advocate, author of several books & a DVD on autism, mother of an adult w/ autism, founder of FEATBC in '96.

6 thoughts on “A Critical Look at Music Therapy

  • October 5, 2012 at 4:06 pm
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    I listen to soft and relaxing music every day. I know it’s changed me. It’s made me a nice person, easy to get along with, and any amount of stress, ultimately no matter how bad, just melts away in the music.

    Music Therapy works. It’s good for you. It’s good to listen to. Keeps the voices at bay. And it’s good for your health. Φ 

    Reply
  • October 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm
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    Our 16 year old son Luke just started music therapy last month, so I’ll be happy to share my experiences as we go along. Many of our friends raved about this music therapist, but I was doubtful about adding another commitment and expense to our lives. HOWEVER- the music therapist announced a program where a small group of special needs children (mostly ASD) will get together weekly to rehearse a musical they will perform in December. It was less than $30 per 1.5 hr session (MUCH lower than most therapies we do), and several of his “friends” were going to be in it, so I signed up. I don’t know if he is talking or thinking better, but I do know he is enjoying the singing, dancing, and time with his friends. When I asked the other day what he was learning, he started jiving a little in the car, and singing parts of “If I Was Your Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber.

    So far, I’m pleased. He’s having fun, doing something social, and maybe, just maybe, it’s helping him. IWe’ve tried things that were more expensive, more controversial, and less fun.

    Reply
  • October 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm
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    I think the label of music therapy causes for some mis conceptions about the music therapy programs.  It is not a program where anyone can turn on a radio and see an increase of neural pathway connections. 

    I recently took a full day course on the benefits of filtered music of different frequencies as my son started the iLS therapy program about 3 months ago, which is a combination of filtered frequency music combined with physical motor activities.   This allows the brain to process what they are hearing while at the same time, challenge themselves to perform other physical or cognitive activities which strengthens the processing power of the brain as a muscle would by lifting weights.   We have already seen him improve in small and larger motor coordination.   I am definitely a huge supporter of the coordination activities, however combining that with the filtered music it has helped with quicker response times and focus and attention as he need to learn to multitask by performing multiple activities at once while processing the music. 
    During the course I learned of studies that I were very encouraging regarding the benefits of specific Music Therapy.  Of course with any research I know that both sides of the argument can ultimately be proven, but finding a program that you consistently use in which social interaction is supported is ultimately is a huge benefit for any child.    It is about finding programs that allow for positive interaction that will result in better outcomes.   Here is some research about the different music programs – http://www.integratedlistening.com/research/

    Reply
  • October 3, 2012 at 3:50 pm
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    @autisticsenior – Frankly, I think it sounds like another cheap way to make money off of confusion surrounding autism.  Music is a very basic and important aspect of human nature, so of course people benefit from listening to music.  The scam comes in charging hundreds or thousands of dollars an hour for something that you can get for incredibly cheap.

    Reply
  • October 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm
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    Music Therapy a hoax? I think not…

    I’m not sure how Music Therapists are using this medium for helping those with ASD (the new acronym for all of us with some type of Autism).However, I’m 60, diagnosed as Autistic at six years old, with a revised diagnosis of Asperger’s in 2011.Music has been extremely important to me all of my life. It soothes me, relieves my anxiety, and allows me to express my emotions which I cannot do verbally.Since most of us on the ASD spectrum prefer symmetry and routine, as well as have sensory issues, music seems to provide order out of chaos, and is a pleasant sensory experience, at least for me.I stumbled upon its benefits at a very early age, on my own. Consequently, if there are techniques now employed to target specific issues for those with ASD, I applaud those that developed them.I use it daily…

    Reply
  • October 2, 2012 at 10:07 pm
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    I find music extremely helpful.

    However, spending money on a music therapist is an idiotic notion.  CD’s can be had for less than a dollar if you don’t mind a few scratches.

    Reply

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