Blog Category: Autism

Autism Awareness Month

autism awareness ribbonApril is Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness month was launched by activists and individuals with autism, to counter the negative language and imagery associated with the disorder. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, with the severity of symptoms varying by individual. For some on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, these symptoms may result in relatively mild challenges. For others with more severe symptoms, repetitive behaviors and lack of spoken language can interfere with everyday life.

The focus during Autism Awareness Month is on sharing positive, respectful and accurate information.

Exactly what is Autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a bio-neurological developmental disability that typically appears before the age of three in children. It affects the areas of language, communication, sensory processing, social interaction and motor skills. Some characteristics of ASD are social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. Often other medical conditions and challenges accompany the basic symptoms of autism.

While there is no single cause or “cure” for autism, increased awareness and access to early intervention and other support services often lead to significantly improved outcomes. In some cases, the diverse symptoms of autism can be completely overcome.

In 2016, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the prevalence of autism had increased to one in every 68 births –  nearly twice the 2004 rate. Although autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder, it is also the most underfunded.

Music Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Individuals with ASD often respond positively to music. Considered to be a “universal language,” music can provide a bridge for those who have trouble expressing themselves or communicating. Due to the multisensory stimulation (auditory, visual, and tactile) of a music therapy session, music therapists can address a multitude of symptoms and behaviors.

Music stimulates both hemispheres of the brain, allowing a music therapist to use songs or instruments to support cognitive activity, building self-awareness and improving relationships with others. For individuals dealing with autism, personal interactions are often difficult, but by introducing an instrument into their therapy, they may first connect with the object and then open up to the therapist or group. Music serves as an alternative form of communication and expression.

Rock Out For Autism on April 29

Erin Savage is the frontwoman in the rock band SeaKing Heir, as well as an educator in the autism program of a private special education collaborative. SeaKing Heir is one of five bands playing at O’Brien’s in Lynn on Saturday, April 29th. Door funds from the concert will be donated to Roman Music Therapy Services to be used for music therapy scholarships for children with autism and other special needs. For more information about the event, see the SeaKing Heir Facebook page.

If you are a parent with questions about how music therapy could help your child, or an educator or program looking for more information, please contact us today!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Use of Music in the Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior Approach for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Article Review

We recently came across a research article about the use music with Applied Behavioral Analysis Verbal Behavior and we wanted to share it with all of you.  We have been working with schools and classrooms that use Applied Behavior Analysis as a primary teaching strategy for many years, and although our experience has demonstrated that music therapy is a great supplement to the instructional methods, it is nice to see the music therapy literature supporting this collaborative effort as well.

The following information comes from the article entitled Use of Music in the Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior Approach for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Hayoung A. Lim in Music Therapy Perspectives.

Applied Behavior Analysis (or ABA) is an approach used with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) that has been used over 20 years.  This article focuses on using music therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis to increase language and communication skills. In the Applied Behavior Analysis all behaviors, including verbal behavior, contains three distinct parts:

  1. The antecedent – what causes the behavior, or events that lead up to a resulting behavior
  2. The behavior – the behaviors itself
  3. The consequence of the behavior – the result of a performed behavior.

(Lim  2010).

Using these three distinctions, the behaviorist establishes a pattern of circumstances resulting in specified behaviors.  ABA uses strong motivational variables, known as reinforcers, that alter behaviors to illicit desired behaviors. Reinforcers may be edible, allow for short controlled contact,  are easy to deliver and remove from the child, and can be repeated and given on multiple occasions.

In recent years, with the continuing development of Music Therapy in use with children on the autism spectrum, ABA  in combination with music therapy has proven successful in providing children with a multifaceted opportunity for growth. Music is inherently structural, which allows it to be a solid antecedent and strong reinforcement  for children with ASD (Lim 2010).  Music therapy addresses a variety of goals and objectives such as social skills, cognitive skills, behavioral skills, and language and communication skills. Using a variety of interventions, music therapy is flexible and capable of catering to each child on an individual basis.

Research suggests that children with ASD have shown preference toward musical stimuli (Lim 2010), this allows music to provide experiences that children with ASD will find useful as motivational variables, as Hayoung states in the article “Age appropriate and well-facilitated musical experiences can provide powerful motivational variables and ongoing reinforcing activities for establishing such rapport between peers.” Music may also function as an “automatic reinforcer” this means that the child may respond naturally to musical stimuli without prompting to obtain the desired behavior.

Within the ABA approach, Verbal Behavior or VB,  is used  to increase language and communication skills. With the use of ABA VB, language and communication is treated as a behavior that is capable of being altered, formed, and reinforced. In order to treat the behavior, it is also important to focus on the reason and context the child chooses to use the language they are using. Language and communication is reinforced by the environment in which the child lives as well as motivational tools. Within the realms of music therapy, ABA VB is reinforced by the natural structure of the music, providing children with clear and concise sequences and patterns.

In Lim’s article, the following conclusion was drawn:

“Pairing target verbal behavior with musical experiences establishes effective automatic reinforcement, and  it can increase the frequency of the communicative behaviors and social interactions in children with autism.”

It would seem that with evidence provided by Lim, the collaboration of ABA therapy and Music Therapy is a natural one. ABA therapy is and music therapy address the necessary goals, allowing a therapist to obtain measurable responses in a way that is functional, motivational, and most importantly, fun for the child.

Written by Channing Shippen, MT-BC



Lim, H. A. (2010). Use of music in the applied behavior analysis verbal behavior approach for children with autism spectrum disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 28, 95-105.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

5 Reasons Music Therapy is Great With Autism

1. Music therapy is an individualized form of therapy that uses the strengths and abilities of a person to accomplish personal goals and meet personal needs.

2. Music therapy is flexible and able to work across multiple goal areas at once! Music therapy is able to address, communication, social, cognitive, emotional, motor/physical, and independent goals. Some parents have referred to music therapy as “one stop shopping!”

3. Music therapy can be both motivating and a positive reinforcer.

4. Music therapy is able to provide a personal experience for individuals and group members alike, incorporating preferred music into sessions, creating a deeper connection to the experiences.

5. Music therapy is Fun! Music therapy is individual in its approach, in that it allows a person to work in a way that is both self-expressive and goal oriented., making it seem like no work at all!

Music Connects

Channing Shippen MT-BC


Reschke-Hernandez, A. E. (2011). History of music therapy treatment interventions for children with autism. Journal of Music Therapy48(2), 169-207.

Allgood, N. (2005). Parents’ perceptions of family-based group music therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 23(2), 92-99.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone