Music Therapy Services for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Funding Assistance Sources for Music Therapy Services

Behavioral Differences

Children on the Autism Spectrum often develop functional skills and exhibit behaviors that differ from children who are typically developing. Autism Speaks, HelpGuide, and the New York Department of Health categorize the various behavioral differences on their websites:

Self-Regulation Differences

Social Development Differences

Communication Differences

Repetitive Behaviors/Inflexibility Differences

Common Self-Stimulation Behaviors

  • Hand flapping
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Spinning in a circle
  • Finger flicking
  • Head banging
  • Staring at lights
  • Moving fingers in front of the eyes
  • Snapping fingers
  • Tapping ears
  • Scratching
  • Lining up toys
  • Spinning objects
  • Wheel spinning
  • Watching moving objects
  • Flicking light switches on and off
  • Repeating words or noises

Special Note

It should be noted that the Autism Spectrum is very wide and that every individual is unique and has his or her own individualized areas of strengths and delays. For this reason, music therapists carefully take time to assess and document the strengths and delays of each individual with whom they work. The next step involves the music therapist writing therapeutic treatment goals based on the assessed areas of need of the individual.

Therapeutic Treatment Goals for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Below is a list of typical treatment goals music therapists target when working with children on the Spectrum:

Primary target areas: Social, Communication, Repetitive Behaviors

Secondary target areas: Academic, Physical/Motor, Cognitive

Social Objectives

Expressive Language Objectives

Receptive Language Objectives

Behavior Objectives

Gross Motor Skills Objectives

Fine Motor Skills Objectives

Cognitive Skills

What Do We Do in Our Sessions?

Next, the music therapist develops a treatment plan for each individual they are working with based on the identified therapeutic treatment goals from the initial assessment. A treatment plan involves the music therapist designing custom individualized music interventions to address the needs of the individuals they are working with. Below is a list of typical interventions we use with children on the Autism Spectrum as well as the therapeutic goals they are targeting:

Tips and Strategies for Parents

Below is a list of music strategies for parents to utilize outside of music therapy sessions:

Famous Musicians and Individuals on the Autism Spectrum


Music Therapy Research Bibliography

Adamek, M.S., & Darrow, A. (2010). Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. In Music in Special Education (pp.193-214). Silver Spring, MD: American Music Therapy Association

Boso, M., Emanuele, E., Minazzi, V., Abbamonte, M., and Politi, P. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 13(7), 709-712.

Brownell, M. (2002). Musically adapted social stories to modify behaviors in students with autism: Four case studies. Journal of Music Therapy, 39 (2), 117-144.

Kim, J., Wigram, T., & Gold, C. (2008). The effects of improvisational music therapy on the joint attention behaviors in autistic children: a randomized study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38 (9), 1758-1766.

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