While everyone has a unique way to bond with their disabled loved one, Danielle Filippone, a 36-year-old nurse at Staten Island Hospital and mother of an 8-year-old son with autism, found the best way to communicate with her son non-verbally was singing to him. This is supported by research that has found that music intervention improves social interactions in children with autism.
survey from the journal Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience proposes a rationale for how rhythmic input can improve sensorimotor functioning and overall growth in cognition, behavior, social skills, and communication. Because movement is critical to many areas of functioning, researchers LaGasse and Hardy hypothesize that the well-documented benefits of pacing in motor rehabilitation may also be effective for individuals with autism.
Connecting music and communication
“Autism was first reported in 1943 by Leo Kanner,” said Laura Lazar, Manager of the National Autism Music Program. “In his classic paper, Kanner presented eleven case studies of children with autism and repeatedly noted the musical abilities and musical interest of six of the children. Since then, researchers have systematically studied the musical processing abilities of individuals with autism and have shown that while language may sometimes be deficient, these individuals process music similarly to typically developing individuals.”
Individuals with autism also show equal or superior abilities in tar processingemotion labeling in music and musical preferences compared to typically developing peers.
However, the most compelling evidence supporting the clinical benefits of music therapy lies in social-emotional responsiveness and communication, including reduced anxiety, improved speech production, receptive labeling, and increased peer interaction. Preliminary findings also support the possibility that music helps in learning daily routines.
Recently, neuroimaging studies have shown that participation in musical activities involves a multimodal network of brain regions involved in hearing, movement, emotion, pleasure, and memory. However, a direct link between the effects of music and brain changes has yet to be demonstrated.
A mother’s experience
“As nurses, we are trained to look for the symptoms of ASD,” Filippone said. “As a mother, though, it’s not that simple. The first symptom I noticed was during Eric’s infancy. He was fascinated by ceiling lights. I talked to him during bottle feeding, but he would always look at them. those lights. I would dim them, turn him away from them, but his eyes were never on me.”
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a broad spectrum of conditions characterized by social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication challenges. There are many subtypes, and each person with autism may have unique strengths and challenges.
By the time Filippone’s son was 18 months old, he was no longer saying “mommy” or trying to make words. Instead, his once beautiful little voice became a series of moans and cries. He began to walk on his toes, spin in circles and repeat crunches and grunts. When he was 2 years old, he was officially diagnosed with autism and began early intervention therapy.
For several months after this diagnosis, Filippone struggled to communicate with her son. Afterward, she said, on one occasion they found themselves exasperated and crying. Out of that frustration, she started singing to try to comfort them both.
“Singing was a big part of my childhood,” Filippone said. “And something beautiful happened. Eric looked me straight in the eye. It was a soul-bonding moment I hadn’t felt since I first held him in the hospital. From then on, every activity had a song.”
Playtime, mealtime, bathtime, and bedtime became a musical. Filippone found Eric and began to respond to his name if she sang it. Eventually, Eric even started trying to sing along, forming new sounds and moving his mouth in various unique ways, forming the words and singing along with his mother.
Eric is turning nine this month and he has come a long way. He is now verbal and loves puzzles and dinosaurs. They continue to use music as a means to communicate.
Using music at home
There are many ways to incorporate music at home, whether it’s by playing an instrument, singing vocabulary cards, or simply helping your child make a beat with his hand with each syllable when working on imitating speech. There are also many free online resources and events that you can find all over the country.
“Families are sometimes very challenged to find appropriate programs for their family members with autism, who may exhibit unpredictable behaviors,” Lazar said. “Since many concerts in the US are free for those with autism and their families, anyone affected by autism, regardless of socioeconomic status, can experience unique and interactive programming.”
“I believe that music and love are synonymous,” said Filippone. “It was from the love I felt from my grandmother and mother when they sang to comfort me as a child. And it was from the love of a mother who would move the earth to show her son how much she loves him.”