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"Her, little, voice" Music Therapy with nonverbal children with ASD

Updated: Jan 1

How can Music Therapy help nonverbal children who find it difficult or impossible to talk?

This was central focus of my final research project when I was studying to be a Music Therapist. Moved by the words of a mother who was longing to hear the voice of her child, I wanted to find out how you could help children with ASD who were struggling to develop some basic, expressive language. I studied all the different ways I could find that had been officially developed and researched to try to discover which were the most effective. The results surprised me...





What is certain is that music, even when not used by a trained therapist, is going to help. It's going to help because even just listening to music, never mind participating in it, lights up all the regions of the brain Music and the Brain: What Happens When You're Listening to Music (ucf.edu). It's also going to help because one of the first things it helps us all with is regulating the nervous system.


Once the brain has switched to the parasympathetic (rest and recuperate) rather than sympathetic system (fight or flight) then whatever you are trying to do therapeutically gets easier. It's surely no coincidence that clients I treat with brain injury who are sometimes deemed 'not settled enough' to take part in the session (showing high levels of agitation by tearing their clothes etc.) if we can just get the music started then - wow - 20 minutes later we can be having a bit of conversation about 80s bands.


I investigated 5 different ways a Music Therapist can help children to develop speech. I fully expected that the more rigorous, repetitive methods such as the specially-adapted version of melodic intonation therapy Using Melodic Intonation to Facilitate Improvement in Language and Communication Skills in Autistic Children - Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation (nlmfoundation.org) might be the most effective. However, in reality, I found (especially once I was able to do clinical work myself) that methods that involve rigour and doing things that the child is not necessarily that keen to do, are not easy to administer especially to younger children.


In the final analysis, I deduced that the most effective way to help a child with speech is to MIX several methods together and serve them in a format that feels to a child like a fun, largely client-led music session with a big emphasis on SINGING. If you can sing the words then you will soon be able to say them! Yes, a little bit of melodic intonation therapy but research has shown how much psychodynamic music therapy helps too - improvisation, running commentary songs - and pre-composed music with the wonderful gap-leaving technique that comes so instinctively, especially to parents. "Twinkle, twinkle, little..." The creating of a relaxed, interactive dynamic between client and therapist where seeds are sown and watered each week, and then we encourage the words to emerge but without any feeling of pressure or coercion.


If you would like to help your child with speech then please consider working with us 1-2-1

Consultation call - This Inner Voice or joining our online music group on Wednesdays after school. Neurodiverse Children's group - weekly - This Inner Voice

Children and parents can meet and take part in a lovely, fun session that is simultaneously helping the children to develop speech. Visit us at This Inner Voice for more information or write to info@thisinnervoice.com.






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