16 Sep 2019

New research shows music therapy helps children with autism

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 16 September 2019

New research out of Victoria University has shown music therapy can help children with autism.

The research conducted by Dr Daphne Rickson, and funded by the IHC, is in its early stages, but already shows children responded well as they were able to regulate their environment.

Daphne Rickson

Daphne Rickson Photo: Supplied

Dr Rickson told Upbeat the study group involved 10 children engaging with music therapists, with feedback from families and expert evaluators who work with those with autism.

“Children with autism are very musical. They have an interest in music and sometimes high-level skills,” she says. “It was true in every case. Evaluators mentioned the children’s musicality…and families…saw their children having success. [Playing the] beat in time and singing in tune…[were] things families appreciated.”

While the children engaged with music, it was the ability to control the musical environment that benefited them most.

“It seems in music therapy that the sensory regulation happens quite quickly,” she says. “It could be to do with the idea of having a strong auditory sense. Ability to control the auditory environment themselves and they can play the instruments…they have control of the environment.”

Dr Rickson is still working through the data, but she says cognitive and emotional regulation also happens through musical therapy for children with autism. “We can draw on the children’s strengths, [they] enjoy being in the room developing confidence and attention and working hard,” she says.

Ultimately, she hopes the research will help others understand how music therapy works and how different people engage with it.