Autistic children are those who do not behave or interact in the expected manner. Instead, the child stays in his or her own world, which is characterized by repetitive routines. The autistic child has odd and peculiar behavior, communication problem and total lack of social awareness. The child having autism is generally withdrawn and aloof and cannot respond to the external stimuli. Many of the autistic children do not speak at all, some other autistic children speak in rhyme or echoes other person's words or use peculiar language.
Music is effective in case of autistic child because almost everybody responds positively to at least some kind of music. Music is non-verbal form of communication and a natural reinforce, which provides motivation for practicing different nonmusical skills.
An autism music therapist must be fully trained with a full curriculum of music classes, along with selected courses in psychology, special education and anatomy as well as field experience in music therapy. Music therapy is particularly helpful for those autistic children whose world is confined in the non-verbal, non-communicating nature of medium. Parallel musical lessons are designed to support the objectives of the child as observed by the therapist or instructed by the parents, teacher or other professional. An autism music therapy professional must observe the particular child's need to socially interact with others. Musical games like passing a ball back and forth along with music or playing sticks and cymbals with other person can be used to encourage their relations and communications. The autistic children avoid eye contact so eye contact is encouraged with imitative clapping games in front of eyes or with some activities that draws attention or any instrument is played near the face. Music is played to enhance social bond that leads to playing music while in a group of other children in a circle.
Music Therapy in autism is particularly effective in the development and remediation of speech. There is severe deficit in communication among autistic children that sometimes include nonexistent or impersonal speech. This speech can vary from complete mute to grunts, humming, pharyngeal sounds to cry and screaming. Musically chanted vocalization with some consonant vowel combinations, sophisticated babbling, interspersed with vaguely recognizable word-like sounds, or some unfamiliar jargon etc.are the characteristic of the autistic children.
Higher-level autism might include echolalia or pronominal reversal while some children might progress to appropriate phrases, sentences and longer sentences with repetitive monotonous speech. The autistic children are easily attached to music, which often seen in the mainstream public schools that autistic child attending music classes.
Autistic children are unusually sensitive to music. Some have perfect pitch while others are seen to play instruments with keen musical perception. This makes easy to adapt the music therapy for the autistic children and the therapists found their duty easier. Some children have unusual sensitiveness to certain musical sounds. An autistic child after playing xylophone bar would spontaneously sing up the harmonic series from the fundamental pitch. Syllable sounds were paired with careful structuring and the child began incorporating the easy consonant-vowel sounds into the vocal play. First the therapy begins with easy notes and tunes played in the xylophone but the therapist gradually include more complex verbalization, which the child slowly starts to imitate.
There are instances in which few autistic children can sing though they are incapable of speaking. Music therapists work systematically on their speech through vocal music activities. In the music classroom songs with simple words, repetitive phrases and even repetitive nonsense syllables can assist the language of an autistic child. The process is facilitated even further by meaningful word phrases and songs presented with visual and tactile cues. One such teaching is giving the child the object while singing:
Do you eat an apple? Yes, yes. Do you eat an apple? Yes, yes. Do you eat an apple? Yes, yes. Yes, yes, yes. and Do you eat a pencil? No, no. Do you eat a pencil? No, no. Do you eat a pencil? No, no. No, no, no.
The teacher sings this simple question answer song with a familiar melody in full rhythm and harmonic accompaniment. To teach an autistic child the noun and verb phrases, a large doll was given to him/her and the teacher sang:
This is a doll. This is a doll. The doll is jumping. The doll is jumping. This is a doll. This is a doll.
Later, words were substituted for walking, sitting, sleeping etc. In the presented songs the bold words are faded out by the Music Therapists gradually. As all the phrases were repeated, the child could follow it through echolalic imitation to respond accurately. When the music was completely eliminated, the child could learn how to verbalize the entire sentence in response to the questions "What is this?" and "What is the doll doing?"
Some other autistic children could learn it more easily when entire song contains both the question and answer. The following phrases are sung to a children with the tune of 'twinkle twinkle little star', the words were faded out in the backward progression. The primary objective of the child is attention to the environmental sounds and the song structure assisted the child in responding in a complete, grammatically correct sentence:
Listen, listen, what do you hear? (music played on tape) I hear an ambulance. (I hear a baby cry.) (I hear my mother calling, etc.)
Eliminating the monotonic speech is another difficult challenge for autistic children. This can be achieved by singing songs which are composed to match the rhythm, stress, flow and modulation of the sentence followed by gradual fading of musical cues. Parents and teachers can help the child to remember the rhythmic aspect of the speech by singing the song again and again to the child.
The autistic music therapy needs to compose special kind of songs, which are repetitive in nature. Even in the higher-level elementary vocal method books, repetition of simple phrases is very common. For the music therapy of the autistic child, the ability to put words together is much vital for the beginning.