Rhythm, movement & Autism

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have many challenges.  Most of us think about their awkwardness in social settings.  Those with severe ASD may not be able to talk or only communicate through an Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) device.  Some use Ipads, which have special applications that assist with communication.

What most of us do not think about are movement and ASD.  Researchers are now beginning to notice that gait and other movements by individuals with ASD need investigation.  Hardy and LaGasse examined the role of rhythm in regards to movement and those with autism.  They know that, due to recent neuroscience research using medical technology that there are “cerebellar differences in autism, with suggestion of early cerebellar dysfunction” (p. 1).  

Their specific goal was to investigate the use of auditory rhythmic cueing in treating individuals with ASD.  They are not only concerned about gross motor movement of individuals with ASD, but the “anticipatory preparation of movement” (p. 5).  To me, this suggests that individuals with ASD have trouble planning their movement.  I feel the researchers are suggesting that rhythmic cueing could assist the brain when cerebellar differences hinder the anticipation of movement.

Neurologic Music Therapy, developed by Thaut and others, is a form of music therapy that helps those with rehabilitative needs, such as stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Hardy and LaGasse inspect how these same techniques used in rehabilitation can help improve motor functioning in individuals with autism.  They state that, “If clinical treatment of autism addressed motor deficits, appropriate therapeutic goals to impact functional change might include motor coordination, motor planning, and functional motor skill development” (p.6).

This article presents a challenge to me as a Neurologic Music Therapy Fellow. I work with individuals with ASD so I plan to use the techniques described in this article.  As always, my goal with my patients is to make their life better.  If assisting them in motor planning will do that, then by all means, try it!

Hardy, M. W. and LaGasse, A. B. (2013).  Rhythm, movement, and autism: Using rhythmic rehabilitation research as a model for autism.  Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7(19), p. 1-9.

Stephanie Morris

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapy Fellow