Music Therapy and Children with ASD who are Verbal

We should not assume that all children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are non-verbal.  Some do have verbal skills and are considered “high functioning,” a term used to give further definition to the individual’s overall ability to function.  I have found in my practice, that even if they have some verbal skills, it does not automatically mean they are “high functioning,” but that is a discussion for another day.

What this study wanted to explore is what do music therapists think that work with these children perceive as to how the music functions?  What is the music’s probability to work therapeutically?  As with any qualitative study, the researcher often delves into the research question by means of interviews.  Instead of statistical analysis, the researcher finds common threads or themes when each interviewee is asked basically the same questions so when they are analyzed, the themes emerge based on how the questions are answered.

Since the client definition was narrow, the criteria for being interviewed honed in on therapists who had specifically worked with children with ASD and were verbal.  The themes that appeared were “a) musical infrastructure which describes how the music therapists facilitated musical experiences to support the children’s ability to regulate their arousal, attention and emotions; b) The meeting point between musical and verbal playfulness, which reflects the music therapists’ beliefs about how musical experiences add vitality and support the development of both verbal and nonverbal imaginative play; and c) musical responses, which describes the different ways music therapists use their voices and songs to interact musically with verbal children” (p. 66).

While this study focused on a narrow group of music therapists in a particular country, “findings highlight how these music therapists activity initiated the use of music in the sessions, particularly the use of vocalizations and songs, in order to engage the child….” (p. 87).  These findings support my work in knowing that as I interact with my client, I have to pay attention to all aspects of our interaction and use music through vocalizations, songs and play to guide the child emotionally.  Understanding that each one of us is different, these findings support being flexible as a therapist and attuned to your client in order to maximize communication.

For more information on music therapy, visit our website at or the American Music Therapy Association’s website at

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapy Fellow

Central Ohio Music Therapy, LLC

Epstein, S., Cochavit, E., Thompson, G. (2020). Music therapists’ perceptions of the therapeutic potentials using music when working with verbal children on the autism spectrum: A Qualitative Analysis.  Journal of Music Therapy, 57(1), 2020, 66 – 90.  Doi: 10-1093/jmt/thz017