Helping kids with autism spectrum disorder bond over music

It is common for parents raising children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) to find it challenging to connect and bond with their children. If you experience these difficulties, music can be an important means to deepen the bond with your kids.


Do

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  • use simple instruments
  • reflect and acknowledge your child’s expressions
  • set the stage for success
  • move to the music
  • sing to your child
Don't

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  • rush
  • forget to be sensitive to over-stimulating instruments
  • believe you must be a musician
  • limit your musical selections
  • exclude others

Ryan Judd, MA, MT-BC‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do use simple instruments

Many children with ASD enjoy playing simple percussive instruments, such as maracas, rhythm sticks, tambourines and drums. Get a collection of good, quality instruments to use during your musical experiences. Having two of each instrument is helpful, so you can model how to play them. Also try teaming up to play an instrument. Hold the drum while your child strikes it with a stick, or tap your rhythm sticks with your child’s rhythm sticks to create a “Patty Cake” game.

Do reflect and acknowledge your child’s expressions

Always observe your children and seek opportunities to reflect their movements, words, vocalizations and instrument playing. For example, if they say, “la, la, la,” you can sing this back to them. If they hit their drum three times, you should also hit your drum three times. If they jump up and down, hit your drum every time their feet land on the floor. Reflecting your children’s expressions lets them know that you are watching, listening and acknowledging them. This can lead to beautiful moments of connection and bonding.

Do set the stage for success

If you are trying to engage your children in music in a very busy environment, you will likely lose them. While music is extremely captivating, it can pale in comparison to the iPad on the table. Consequently, try structuring your music time in the most calm and empty room in the house. If there are still distractions in this room, cover them with a sheet. Laying the groundwork for success by preparing the physical environment beforehand can make a positive difference.

Do move to the music

Put on some recorded music, and move and dance with your children. Kids tend to love songs with sudden freezes, such as Greg and Steve’s “Freeze Song.” Play one of these songs and have a remote in your hand, so you can suddenly stop the music. This leads to tons of great communication, eye contact and smiles. Also try holding your children’s hands and rocking back and forth while singing, “Row your Boat.”

Do sing to your child

Singing increases oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone. And beyond the science, there is a simple beauty of a parent singing to a child. If you are concerned that you do not have a good voice or can’t sing at all, just go for it. Remember that children are not judgmental of one’s ability to sing in key. The important thing is that you have fun and sing out. Begin with songs that are simple, and that you already know by heart. Tunes, such as, “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Row your Boat,” “This Old Man” and “Old McDonald” are always winners.


Ryan Judd, MA, MT-BC‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not rush

Finding the instruments, songs and musical activities that children enjoy can take time. Build upon your success and keep trying new things. Once you find several winners, you will have a wonderful new way to connect and bond with your child.

Do not forget to be sensitive to over-stimulating instruments

Certain instruments might be too loud or have a tone that is too harsh for a child’s ears. Be sensitive when introducing instruments and start soft. A child with ASD may fixate on certain instruments, such as the jingles on a tambourine. If this is the case, remove this particular instrument from your collection.

Do not believe you must be a musician

Don’t get hung up on your musical skills. This is a good time for you to explore instruments, including your own voice. Keep things simple–and be sure to have fun.

Do not limit your musical selections

Many parents get fixated on only using children’s music with their kids. Try branching out with classical and world music. For example, Putumayo World Music (www.putumayo.com) offers many great music compilations from different world cultures.

Do not exclude others

Music can be a wonderful way to bring the entire family together. Because some typical siblings feel left out from the numerous activities and therapies that siblings with ASD receive, this is a great opportunity to let everyone join in the fun.


Summary

Music is a powerful way to express oneself and feel connected with others. Bringing music into the home setting can help family members bond with each other in a creative and motivating atmosphere. Now grab those instruments and let’s make some music!

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