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Special Needs with Music as therapy

Music has a language of its own


People on the Autism spectrum typically work on addressing their cognitive, social and communication skills. (

Integrating music while working on these skills has shown tremendous progress (and tons of fun) throughout the Autism world. With studies done by researchers, the emphasis on music being used therapeutically and as a method to build various life skills has gained popularity overtime.

In official terms, Music Therapy is regarded as an evidence based, music and overall health integration for people. It entails working with a professionally trained music therapist in a group/individual setting while also focusing on individual goals.

For example, Amy, participating in Music as therapy and intervention is also working on her communication. Using music as an outlet, she is learning to identify different things from daily life. By singing along to songs on buses and cars, she learns to recognize vehicles she may see around town.

Introducing Music

People of all ages can gain from experiential learning through music. With the benefits of introducing music to the overall development, there is a health reward for every person involved. Some areas of health that are positively impacted by music as a therapeutic tool include:

Emotional processing - invoking different emotions and feelings from different types of music

Autonomic body functions - Processes that the body automatically does. For example heart rate, respiration etc.

Cognitive processing - Working on the brain cells and neurons to enhance attention span, body movement, body coordination.

Neurochemistry - Chemicals like Endorphins and Dopamine produced by the body are elevated thus resulting in lower stress, regulated heart rate.

Skills Building

The list of how people on the Autism Spectrum gain from Music as therapy covers different aspects of learning and development. Here are a few things that we would like to bring your focus to:

1. Pre-learning skills - Music as therapy makes way for basic learning skills like imitation, turn taking and increasing attention span for people on the Autism Spectrum.

2. Communication Skills - In a music session, participating along using gestures or words encourages both verbal and non-verbal communication.

3. Social Skills - Working in a one-to-one/group session involves interaction with peers/mentor/music therapist and can help naturally aid conversations to build on an individuals’ social skills.

4. Physiological and Psychological impact - Scientifically proven, using music as a form of therapy positively impacts the body's immune system resulting in lowered stress levels.

5. Self-confidence- Learning to play a musical instrument, being a part of a group, being able to independently express through music and singing words to songs instills confidence and builds a sense of self-esteem.

6. Motor movements - Using different musical instruments can help individuals with special needs work on their fine and gross motor skills. For example, playing Djembe enhances gross motor skills while learning to play a guitar may facilitate fine motor skills.

7. Self-Care - Individuals taking a short break between tasks and listening to music can help regulate and unwind. For instance, an individual listening to calming music in a sensory room to relaxas a part of transition to the next activity/task.

Did you know?

Along with Autism Spectrum, here a few other groups of population that have been benefiting from Music as a form of therapy.

• People with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) and learning disabilities - Music helps in maintaining attention spans and improved focus.

• People with physical injuries - Music has proved to support physical rehabilitation of motor skills, ease pain and encourage socialization.

• People with mental health challenges - With music’s influence on the chemicals in our brain, release of Endorphins (stress fighters) and Dopamine (responsible for mood, sleep, memory) help improve overall mental health.

Sensory Integration

Participating in Music Therapy or a music group also allows people on the Autism Spectrum to stimulate their senses (

Senses like Touch, Hear, Seeing, Proprioceptive and Vestibular are stimulated during music sessions. For example, individuals who are hypo-sensitive to touch, hear and seeing, can benefit from individual/group session. This would not only help regulate their sensory needs but also build towards improving the use of these senses. Furthermore, rhythm and movement support Vestibular and Proprioceptive senses as a part of Music as therapy.

As mentioned above, it is beneficial when a professional music therapist accommodates the learning. Nevertheless, any setting is a good place to start introducing music to support people on the Autism Spectrum. It could be done at home or at community programs supporting music as a recreational activity.

Music at The Owl House

Our programmes integrate music as a therapeutic tool. We have mentors who work with the individuals in a small group setting. From basic skill learning (imitation/attention) to playing a musical instrument and making beats, we work together with the individuals to facilitate all forms of learning.

For instance, along with the beat of the musical instrument, an individual worked on learning body movement, hard and soft touch, hand-eye coordination, hand-leg coordination etc.

We also facilitate weekly group sessions for individuals to express themselves through music. It involves turn taking, using and recognizing different musical instruments, learning words to new songs, working with peers, and/or hands on support if needed. Covering all areas of skill enhancement while making it fun and engaging with music is what the educators at The Owl House like to call a 'fluteful' day.

Make your own musical Instrument

Here is a fun DIY (Do-It-Yourself) activity to make your own shaker at home with the individual you support to get started with music!

What you need:

• Empty cans/ plastic bottles with lids/caps - As many as you would like to make.

• Rice/Marbles/Corn/Sand/Beans/Beads - a small bowl of each item that makes a sound you prefer.

• Acrylic paints and brushes or permanent markers to decorate your shaker - this is optional but we highly recommend it!


1. Clean out the plastic bottles/cans for wrappers or glue stains with a piece of rag dipped in lukewarm water.

2. Put different ingredients in each bottle or cans for diverse sounds. Example, rice in a tin can and marbles in a plastic bottle. You can mix it up to find your liking.

3. Tighten the lid/cap for the cans or bottles being used.

4. Use Acrylic colors with paint brushes (or your hands) to bedazzle your shaker and let it dry.

Voila! Your shaker is now ready to be tried and tested! You can make different shakers with different sounds. You can also mix and match or add more than one ingredient in each shaker.

And as always, don’t forget to have fun!


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