Music as an Occupational Therapy Tool for Building Social Skills
Social skills don’t come easily to many kids with disabilities and delays. But music is a language we can all speak! Music literally moves us and brings people together. It’s uniquely its own kind of therapy, and we love using it in occupational therapy when we’re working on social skills.
At Therapy & Wellness Connection, we offer music therapy because it is a research-based practice in which we use music to actively support people working toward improvement in their health, function and well-being. And it’s so versatile! Music is powerful and a very effective way to help children with special needs meet their occupational therapy goals, including improvement of:
- Motor skills
- Speech & language skills
- Cognition/neural processing skills
- Self-regulation/reducing anxiety
It’s common knowledge in the music community that regular music lessons can help improve academic performance, increase IQ scores and reduce the risk of depression. Still, many parents aren’t aware that music – especially when used in an occupational therapy setting – can help encourage so many important life skills.
Researchers Tout Benefits of Music for Kids With ASD
One recent study specifically had the potential to improve the development of social skills among children with autism spectrum disorder. Further, researchers wanted to know if the effects were long-lasting.
Researchers noted that children with autism often have difficulties with direct social engagement, and that musical activities in the social context can provide them with valuable opportunities for interacting with their peers. They also pointed out prior studies that found even though children on the spectrum have difficulty processing and controlling their emotions, they can identify the rich emotions that are embedded in music as well as any typically-developing child.
Dozens of kids in the study were given pre- and post-music therapy social skills tests. Kids were categorized as having mild to severe autism and social scores that were ranked active to passive. What they found was that social skills was one area of distinct improvement for kids who had undergone musical therapy intervention, and that it was most effective when it was controlled in an occupational therapy setting.
Study authors said the results were encouraging, and called for more research examining the benefits for different age groups, populations, levels of ASD and skill focuses (motor skills, communication skills, etc.).
How We Use Music in Occupational Therapy
Just like a conversation, musical activities usually require body awareness and understanding of nonverbal cues. We can plan lots of fun games and activities around these goals. Specifically for social-pragmatic skills, we can target language objectives, joint attention, eye gaze and cooperative play with games like musical chairs or “musical statutes,” or animal dances.
One we’ve had a lot of fun with is “musical clothes,” where we have a pile of props/costumes in the middle and music is played and each child has to choose one prop/article and quickly don it before the music stops. In summer camps, sometimes we’ll have the kids team up, choose a theme song and create a dance routine with it – with a performance at the end (it’s SO much fun and a great team-building/communication exercise!).
Music can also be used before an occupational therapy session to help prepare the patient emotionally/induce the appropriate amount of arousal (or calming/regulation). It can also be used at the end of a session to help prepare for a transition.
Often in OT, music can be used to help keep kids focused and on-task. Sometimes we’ll listen to a combination of binaural (two-tone frequencies) and classical music, either on headphones or from a speaker. This has been shown to promote alpha brain wave and keep kids calm. For some kids, this music combo or ambient music helps improve dizziness during vestibular training.
If you have questions about occupational therapy or music therapy, our team at Therapy & Wellness Connection can help.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, tutoring, vocational services and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Using Music Activities to Teach Social Skills to Children with Autism, April 17, 2018, ASHA
More Blog Entries:
Best Occupational Therapy Board Games for Kids, Oct. 15, 2020, Cleveland Occupational Therapy Blog