3 ways music educators can help students with autism develop their emotions
3 ways music educators can help students with autism develop their emotions

3 ways music educators can help students with autism develop their emotions

Many children with autism struggle to find the words to express how they feel. But when it comes to music, it’s an entirely different situation.

Evidence suggests children with autism may enjoy music and show an early desire for music education .

I am a mother to three young adult sons with high-functioning autism. I got them involved in music from a young age, and they learned to communicate their emotions by playing bassoon, French horn and baritone. As a doctoral student and music teacher, I have seen the emotional transformation from music happen in both my music classroom and my home. I’d like to share what I have learned. The backstory

From 2003 to 2018, I owned and operated the Center for Education School of the Arts and Sciences in Tampa, Florida. It was a K-12 school of the arts for students with learning and developmental disabilities.

Everyone in the school was required to join a music group, such as concert band, musical theater, jazz band or chamber ensemble. They all studied in private lessons on their instruments with me, as the school’s music teacher. I saw what I believe to be incredible musical and emotional growth in students with autism after they began to study music.

For example, there was one student who was unable to speak but could hum melodies. I gradually realized that she hummed different tunes for the emotions she was feeling, even though she couldn’t communicate them verbally. Her eyes always matched her emotions as she hummed the story she couldn’t tell.

Another student with Asperger’s disorder took private piano and composition lessons with me. He could talk, but he couldn’t explain how he felt. On days he felt sad, he played a piece of music he had composed to express it. Likewise, he had composed pieces for happy, angry and lonely.


Studies show that children with autism can understand both simple and complex emotions in music and are more responsive to sensory stimulation compared with other children – especially in music, even over speech or noise . This may explain why some children with autism are musical savants. CBS interviews Rex Lewis-Clack, a 13-year-old piano prodigy with autism. Musical emotions aren’t understood the same way as regular emotions. They don’t require complex facial expressions or a “tone of voice,” which are particularly difficult for children with autism to recognize . Musical emotions are easier for children with autism spectrum disorder to grasp because they are a less socially complex. Incorporate music in […]

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