Because the brain of an autistic child is very good with math, reading, languages and anything that has an obvious pattern, music therapy is now an option for parents in some parts of the country. Children who are verbal excel at it only slightly more than nonverbal children, suggest the findings of several studies and music on the autistic brain. Children with autism who play a musical instrument also seem to have the focus needed to attend to a piece of music much longer than the average child.
Instruments that busy the fingers and allow for finger changes have the most impact. Strings, winds and piano are preferred by most children who can vocalize what instrument they would like to try. It gets them to come out of their shells if they are shy children, and encourages them to talk about something that really holds their interest.
Rhythms, from the simple to the complicated, are quickly understood and picked up by children with autism, making music therapy the perfect means to draw them out of their autistic world and into the world with the rest of us. Strings and keys on the instruments are perfect for their fidgeting and repetitive movements. Their seemingly obstinate approach to perfectionism means they are willing to learn and practice music until the instrument is removed from their presence.
The only blockade that exists for this type of therapy is finding a music therapist who is willing to help a child with autism. Music therapists have almost been completely dismissed from use in many hospitals and county facilities, and usually can only be found in particularly large cities or the state capitols. Parents can use an online referral service to locate a music therapist who works with children and adults with autism. Music therapy is rarely covered by health insurance programs, but if the child receives social security and Medicare, Medicare might cover it. If Medicare doesn’t, at least the social security disability money every month can.
If a child with autism is high functioning enough, music lessons offered by the local school district are most effective, and free. Generally the cost of the rented instrument that the child chooses is the only expense the parents have to worry about, unless they can buy a used instrument from another student. The music lessons help these children train and focus on something constructive, rather than obsessing on something that may not seem important to anyone else.
Local chapters of autism support groups may be another source to locate music therapy groups or music therapists. Some music therapy camps for children with autism do exist, but they are too few and far between across the country. A handful of music teachers who have experience working with kids with autism might be a valuable substitute if a music therapist isn’t close enough to come to the home or drive the child to meetings. Unfortunately that might mean paying for private lessons, but it’s no more expensive than a music therapist.
Music therapy is an invaluable means to help a child with autism. It is slowly being recognized as a tool to help, and hopefully, will be widespread in the next twenty years. Maybe by then we will know exactly what causes autism, and how we can prevent it or possibly cure it for parents that would want a cure for their child. In that case, music therapy wouldn’t be necessary anymore, but it probably wouldn’t stop a child who loves music from playing.
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