Art and Music Therapies for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Art and Music Therapies for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is classified as a neurological and developmental condition characterized by behavioral difficulties in areas of social interaction and communication. Individuals with ASD may display patterns of repetitive behaviors or restricted interests which can conflict with their proficiency to use verbal or non-verbal gestures, interpret their own and others’ emotions, or adjust to new environments and scenarios (American Psychiatric Association, 2021). As a result, individuals with ASD may be hindered from successfully communicating their thoughts and wishes to others. Children and adults with ASD experience different degrees of impairment with respect to the severity, number, or presentation of their symptoms. Early intervention, focused on different forms of training and therapy, have been shown to improve functionality of social and speech skills which can help individuals to better understand social situations. While most individuals with ASD opt for common forms of intervention such as applied behavior analysis and occupational and speech therapy, non-traditional programs such as art and music therapy have been seen to be very effective in increasing social adaptation and communication skills (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019). 

Art therapy is emerging as a new tool to successfully mitigate some symptoms of ASD by promoting a stimulating outlet to help individuals use artwork and media to explore their emotions while developing self-awareness skills to better acclimate to new surroundings (The Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning, 2021). Art therapy is a creative process which is facilitated by an art therapist who is a licensed, master-level clinician with expertise on how to integrate sensory and symbolic art modes into improvement of cognitive and emotional function (American Art Therapy Association, 2017). As individuals with ASD may experience difficulty expressing themselves verbally, art therapy provides a non-verbal outlet where one may develop and enhance their ability to express themselves in a less restrictive environment. As art therapy tends to be individualized, one may choose what materials, mediums, and colors they want to use to form their own visual work. In this manner, those with ASD are able to integrate abstract thinking and their emotions into their art to reveal their perspective and creative expression. Art therapists can cater their exercises to seeing which materials are most preferable or popular to their patient so they can be most comfortable in their own learning environment (Van Lith et al., 2017, p. 78-84). The preference in choosing different materials can help individuals with ASD increase their tolerance to experience new stimuli. Art strategies, such as sand art or playdough sculptures, are forms of different sensory materials which can help individuals to be more desensitized to new textures and smells. While participating in this creative play, individuals can be more comfortable with various stimuli which will inevitably improve their interaction to similar situations in their daily life. Here, art therapy is able to enhance visual and spatial skills in individuals to allow them greater behavioral regulation (The Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning, 2021).      

Similar to art therapy, music therapy is an intervention, facilitated by an accredited therapist, that focuses on instrument play, musical improvisation, and various musical activities to foster social and communicative skills. Music therapy helps to provide a predictable structure to sessions that may help to better accommodate individuals with ASD for their learning environment. Because of heavy sensory engagement, music based therapy sessions can help one to be accustomed to different social environments and increase the likelihood of positive engagement in daily activities. Additionally, music therapies can often be presented in group activities which can encourage individuals with ASD to collaborate with others and increase their interaction. As ASD may make it difficult for individuals to understand others’ expressions and emotions, these group activities can help their social skills and communication (American Music Therapy Association, 2015).

Through efforts to expand therapy and intervention practices, one can see how there are options for individuals with ASD to learn new social and communicative skills in a manner most comfortable to them. Interventions such as art and music therapy provide innovative learning styles where an individual with ASD can foster abilities to be confident and secure in themselves in their own environment.   



American Art Therapy Association. (2017). Becoming an art therapist.

American Music Therapy Association. (2015). Fact sheet: music therapy and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

American Psychiatric Association. (2021, August). What is autism spectrum disorder?

The Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning. (2021, May 25). Art therapy activities for autism.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, September 23). Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Van Lith, T., Stallings, J. W., & Harris, C. E. (2017). Discovering good practice for art therapy with children who have autism spectrum disorder: The results of a small scale survey. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 54, 78-84.

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