By Jena P.
Posted June 10, 2015
Can you provide me some information on music therapy for a child with autism?
Answered: June 19, 2015 by Dr. Sidney Baker
Thank you for this question.
I understand what creative arts therapies (music, art, and some aspects of physical – including dance) offer is a chance for self-expression. In such practices the therapist is both a teacher and interpreter of thoughts and feelings that all of us reveal to ourselves and to others when we let our bodies talk in their different voices. That's good for all of us. Sometimes words are not accessible or enough for an individual to express his or her inner world and to be seen and heard. A creative arts therapy offers a way to be seen or heard in a language that is accessible and ultimately healing. Healing comes when ones strengths are seen through the eyes of others – allowing the child or adult to move toward becoming that stronger self. This process unfolds even if such strengths are not unusually artistic, but simply enliven a voice that is unavailable when speech is difficult or absent.
I would appreciate hearing from those of you who have had personal experience with music and other therapies. Let me start with a story in what may become a brief series of responses based on your feedback.
Last year I was the guest in the home of a family of a teenager who had benefited substantially from biomedical intervention. Soon after shaking hands and beginning a conversation with him I posed a version of my favorite question for all children I meet - and for some adults as well. “What’s your best thing?” or “What are you good at?”
“Drums,” was his immediate smiling answer.
I learned right away that he had, the previous week, been given a drum set for his birthday. Within minutes we were in his room and I was closer than I have ever been to a drum set in action. Whatever my expectations might have been of the performance of a novice drummer they could not possibly have matched the reality I found in that small space and time. His skill was astonishing; I would have said impossible for someone who had just started with drums, and extraordinary - considering only the matter of working smoothly in the three dimensions of the drum set.
His family had encouraged him to take on piano, guitar, and at least one other instrument. He had tried them all without signs of aptitude or special interest. His request for drums prevailed over the usual resistance a teenager’s family might express about drums in the house. He was already transformed, bursting with something deeper than self-confidence. He was suddenly seeing his own strength. My appreciation of his skill allowed him to see himself through my eyes and more comfortably own that talented self.
I have previously described individuals, such as Dr. Bernard Rimland’s son Mark, in whom the discovery of a profound artistic talent awaited one teacher who saw what had gone unseen for years. There are countless pursuits, arts, sports, and other activities in which our children – especially those in the autism spectrum can discover remarkable hidden strengths that, when found, may leverage healing. It may take numerous – sometimes tedious – experiments before one can safely say that no such special talent can be found in a given child. When one is found, the pay-off is immeasurable.