Researchers continue to explore why individuals with autism have lower language abilities. Lai, Pantazatos, Scheinder and Hirsh share their findings in the March 2012 issue of Brain.
(Neural Systems for Speech and Song in Autism, Brain. 2012 March; 135(3): 961–975. Published online 2012 January 2. doi: 10.1093/brain/awr335)
This study compared the processing of song and speech stimuli in children. The children with autism showed reduced activation in Broca’s area during the speech stimulation, but conversely showed higher activation in this same area during song stimuli. The conclusion of this study shows that disconnection may not be the case, but rather reduced activation of Broca’s area.
The authors conclude that this is positive news for rehabilitation of these language skills. They highlight music therapy as the potential solution.
So how can music therapy improve the language skills in a person with autism?
First, let’s call this habilitation, not rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is relearning a skill that has been lost. Most folks with autism never fully developed language.
First, is simply attention. Music captures and holds attention. Individuals with autism do not have impaired ability to process music, and often have heightened ability. These facts dramatically improve attention during a music therapy session. That seems obvious – if you’re not tuned in, you surely can’t process the words!
So when John Doe comes to music therapy, he is engaged.
The other important factors are shared neural pathways and neural plasticity. Neural plasticity allows our brains to change. Music learning has been shown to increase brain size and improve efficient interaction. So, participation in music therapy focused on language ability can improve Broca’s area (and others!) Because Broca’s area also processes speech, these improvements from musical tasks will benefit language skills as well.
So when John Doe leaves music therapy, his brain has improved its ability to process language.
Seems so simple! Of course WHAT occurs in that session is very important. Simply banging drums and singing songs won’t cut it. Neurologic music therapists are able to create musical experiences that enable these neural improvements.
Music Therapy Services of Greater Atlanta are experts at using music to improve language skills in patients with autism spectrum disorders. If you have any questions about how we use music to improve language, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to answer your questions! If you have a loved one with autism who might benefit from these services, schedule a FREE SCREENING so we can assess their potential for improvement.
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