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Because music is very similar to spoken language, it can help a child with autism's ability to communicate. Music therapy has shown to change a child’s behavior, increase both attention span and improve the ability to learn through interactions. Music therapy activities often involve singing songs and rhyming. This can also teach children rhythm and teach them patterns.
Using this form of therapy can help children adjust to non-music settings by slowly fading music to silence.
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Benefits of Music Therapy
Children that participate in music therapy have shown to be able to memorize song lyrics. This often causes the children to naturally want to sing when they hear a familiar song even when they do not normally verbally communicate well. Music therapy can give children motivation to participate when interacting with other people. Children that participate in music therapy often experience emotional involvement when listening to music.
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Although it seems simple, singing songs can help a child with autism learn. When a child participates in singing songs, they often become calm and develop a greater attention span. A good activity to do with a child with autism is to have a singing circle. To do this, have the students simply stand in a circle. Choose common nursery songs, such as “Old McDonald” or “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. After a few days of this activity, the children are likely to memorize the lyrics and begin singing along. Once they feel comfortable and anticipate this activity, you can start adding in simple hand gestures, such as clapping, to get them to practice rhythm.
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Besides singing songs, rhythm patterns can also increase a child’s memory and focus. As you sing the songs, have the children try to mimic your hand gestures to the rhythm of the music.
Another rhythm exercise involves teaching them patterns using music. You can create simple rhythm patterns using clapping. An example of this would be: clap-pause-clap-clap-pause-clap. Teach the children this pattern and have them repeat it in a group. This activity causes the children to have to focus and it will increase their memory. As the children become more comfortable with this exercise, you can make the patterns more complex.
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Fading to Silence
At the end of music therapy activities for children with autism, let a song play and at the end of the song, slowly turn down the volume. You want to do this until the song eventually fades to silence. This helps the children easily relax to a non-music setting.