top of page

Music Therapy & Autism

Making-music is the only activity that's been shown to engage almost every area of the brain at once. (Band-nerds like me, rejoice!) Music therapists are trained to take advantage of music's "multi-modal" approach and use it to teach social skills, communication skills, and emotional regulation for people who need extra help, including some kids and adults with autism. (Watch the awesome video to learn more how music affects the brain).

For people with autism, music therapy can provide a space for non-verbal expression. Music has a way of conveying complex feelings without using words.

Because music is inherently repetitive, it also provides opportunities to practice words or phrases multiple times without feeling silly. For example, to practice saying "hello" you can sing these words to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell:"

"It's time to say hello

It's time to say hello

Hi-ho the dairy-o

It's time to say _________"

This works so well because the listener has a chance to hear the word "hello" 2 times before being asked to fill-in-the-blank at the end. (P.S. Filling-in-the-blank at the end of songs is one of my all-time favorite music therapy secrets.)

This same activity works with phrases, too. To practice requesting a want or need, you can adapt the same tune:

"I want to eat a snack,

I want to eat a snack,

Hi-ho the dairy-o


At home you can fill in any phrase, "I want to play my iPad," "I want to go outside," "I want to take a break." Definitely feel free to pick your own favorite tune.

In a similar way, music can help teach people with autism ways to label emotions and facial expressions. You can do this at home by changing some of the words to "If You're Happy and You Know It."

"If you're happy and you know it show a smile.

If you're happy and you know it show a smile.

If you're happy and you know it and you really want to show it,

If you're happy and you know it show a smile."

Repeat this with any other feeling.

"If you're sad and you know it show a frown"

"If you're angry and you know it scrunch your face"

"If you're surprised and you know it give a gasp"

"If you're silly and you know it stick out your tongue"

There are so, so many other ways to use music to teach life skills. Playing a keyboard or xylophone with colored stickers provides opportunities to practice auditory processing and receptive language skills, like following directions. Playing drums provides opportunities to develop motor skills. Both of these activities provide opportunities to practice taking turn and making eye contact. Music therapists are trained to design activities like these that are fun and functional. Most of my clients don't even realize they're learning life skills!

Music therapists assess where each person is at and set goals that fit with each person's or family's priorities. Music therapists are also required to document progress, so parents, caregivers, and participants will know how it's going every step of the way. But the best part of using music therapy to teach social skills, communication skills, and emotional regulation is that it's evidenced-based! You heard that right, music therapy has been proven over and over again to be an effective way to teach life skills to people with autism. (For all you reserach-super-dorks like me, check out this whole page dedicated to music therapy and autism research.)

If you're in the Seattle area and think music therapy would benefit you or someone you know, click here to set up a free consultation. If you want to learn more about my private practice, Life On Music, check out our services. Otherwise, go to to find a music therapist near you.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page