Previous research has demonstrated the effectiveness of music therapy in treating children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). A recent Atlantic article follows a student of a New York therapeutic school for children with neurodevelopmental disorders and documents how adhering to music's clearly defined structure helped the 13-year-old manage social interactions and other challenging life situations.
From the piece:
For the last four years, Jaden has been attending [Rebecca School] for music therapy - broadly defined as the clinical use of music for treatment of people with mental, physical or emotional issues. Jaden was born without a corpus callosum - the flat bundle of cells that connects the left and right sides of the brain, facilitating communication between the two hemispheres. He has minimal speaking skills, said Dr. Gil Tippy, [PsyD,] the Rebecca School's clinical director, but it's made up for by a penchant for music.
The term "music therapy" first appeared in The Columbia Magazine back in 1789, but it wasn't until the 1940s that music therapy began to emerge as a clinical profession when hospitals used music to treat World War II soldiers suffering from shell shock. Using music as a therapeutic medium has been shown to facilitate motivation, communication skills and social interaction, and it improves attention spans among children with autism.
Instructors at Rebecca School, which also uses Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR) therapy to reach children, may accompany students on another instrument, encouraging communication by matching pace and tone and even using the rhythm of a piece of music to influence energy states of the student; for example, slowing a beat to calm down a child. The skills acquired through music lessons can be applied elsewhere:
Individuals with ASD often find it challenging to maneuver social situations. That's because they tend to focus on details, which restricts their ability to understand implicit social cues, said Andrew Gerber,[MD, PhD,] an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia Medical Center. That explains why music is often more appealing: the rules are better defined. "One of the real advantages of using music for a kid with autism is that it's a chance to be able to teach him rules that are knowable," said Gerber. "They can feel like they've mastered something. It makes sense to them."
Jaden found his calling in percussion.