Using music to achieve positive outcomes for people with autism

Music is a universal language. It speaks uniquely to every one of us. From the strum of a guitar to the tickling of a piano, music flows deep and connects us all together.

But the beauty of music’s beating drum doesn’t stop there. As well as having many social benefits, music is a powerful therapy tool for people with autism, providing a platform for positive self-expression and creativity, so they feel free to be their most authentic selves.

The magic of music is put into practice wholeheartedly at BROCS, one of our specialist autism day services, located in the heart of Wakefield. Home to a talented team of Support Workers, their colourful, inspiring hallways are filled with creativity. And the sound of fun, meaningful music sessions can often be heard echoing through the halls.

Led by super-supporter Steve – a specially trained autism Support Worker by day, and professional musical maestro by night – BROCS is transformed into a vibrant hub of creativity and self-expression, providing invaluable benefits to the people we support.

A window to the soul

Research is rapidly moving forward on the value of music as a therapy intervention for people with autism, and how it can positively impact their quality of life. Evidence increasingly proves music is an essential outlet of expression, encouraging people to dream big and achieve everything they want to.  

An image of a person we support listening to music with their support worker. text reads, "Music opens a window into the world of someone with autism. They might not be able to step into your world, so it's a privilege to use music to step into theirs. Steve, BROCS Support Worker."

Although research is still at the early stages, the positive effects of music on people with autism is something Steve has witnessed for a long time. Previously employed as a guitar teacher, Steve is now a part-time musician alongside his role at BROCS.

Using his skills to inspire, teach, and achieve with the people we support, Steve’s musical talent pairs perfectly with his specialist autism training. Together, they help Steve provide purposeful, creative activities to everyone we support.

Steve said, “Music has many positive effects on the people we support – from social interactions through group participation, to hand-eye coordination, and everything in between. It has no downsides.”

“But, most importantly, it opens a window into their worlds. With autism, they might not be able to step into your world, so it’s a privilege to use music to step into theirs. I taught guitar for many years, but one hour of achievement with the people we support is worth a decade of teaching.”

Drumming up understanding

Autism presents differently in each person. Although there are common characteristics, someone’s autism will always be unique to them. With the help of music, we can better understand the unique qualities of autistic people and how we can best support them to achieve their goals, and live fulfilled lives.

At BROCS, Steve has the honour of seeing the people we support develop socially, emotionally, and physically, with the help of music. Using music as a powerful holistic tool, Steve’s sessions encourage group participation, which can be intimidating to people with autism. Yet the music provides common ground, helping the people we support feel at ease and interact with each other.

Not only does music bring people together and empower relationships, but it also improves physical development and overall wellbeing – something Steve is passionate about.

“Playing instruments can improve hands-on skills, providing tactile objects that act as exciting, creative mediums for those who like the sensation of touch. It also develops hand-eye coordination and motor skills. This enhances someone’s ability to participate in other arts-based activities, which are also proven to empower confidence, social skills, and overall wellbeing.”­­­

Sounds of success

The benefits of music in people with autism are wide-ranging, acting as a therapeutic intervention in many ways. As well as social and physical development, music also improves communication, empowering individuals to find their voice and explore new ways to express thoughts, feelings and needs.

Communication and self-expression are very common difficulties in people with autism. When autistic people feel they’re misunderstood or that they can’t express themselves effectively, they can feel anxious and frustrated, resulting in challenging behaviours. Music provides a medium for expression and helps reduce these feelings of anxiety and stress.

Connecting to music in an environment like BROCS provides a safe, reassuring environment, helping reduce common characteristics of autism, like shyness and hesitation.

And, in the matters of the mind, music improves cognitive development and even activates our ‘happy hormones’. Awakening the part of our brain responsible for controlling emotions, music can influence positive behavioural and emotional changes.

Steve is a big supporter of lifting people up and knows that music is the creative key to unlocking that feel-good factor!

He said, “Creativity is a fundamental part of music. It’s an amazing tool for the people we support. Repetitive or restrictive behaviours are common in autism and often signal frustration. This might come from people feeling misunderstood, or not being able to express themselves in a convenient way.”

“With music, not only are people empowered to explore new ways to communicate, but they’re encouraged to find new ways to approach different situations or think about things.”

An instrument for change

With such an impressive score of social, emotional, and physical benefits, music is proving to be an empowering art engine, driving development and achievements in the lives of people with autism.

And at BROCS, Steve believes it’s something we should all be focusing on weaving into autism support frameworks.

“Music within service provision isn’t something that should just be tried – it’s essential. It’s a powerful type of therapy that has no downsides. It makes learning and developing skills fun, and highlights abilities, not disabilities. The value of music simply can’t be over-stated when used as a positive force for good.”

Often, autistic people can be shy and reluctant to join in with group activities. Empowered by specialist autism training and a wealth of teaching experience, Steve is a dab-hand at drawing out creativity and working with individuals to feel confident and join in.

“When a new person joins BROCS, we find out what type of music they like, or their favourite song. I’ll learn that song and play it for them in each session. It’s comforting to them and, usually, their reaction indicates it’s something they’re enjoying. This signals success to me. Ensuring you tailor the music to the individual is important – you need to focus on what they enjoy.”

“The people we support are individuals, with their own preferences and tastes. Everyone has a favourite type of music, or a song that means a lot to them. Songs are landmarks in our lives – they help us remember special moments and conjure positive emotions.”

Music to achieve positive outcomes for autism quote from Support Worker Steve

Sharing good vibes

As well as providing fun-filled music sessions, tailored to the people we support, Steve and the team at BROCS have made music interactive and accessible at home. After seeking permission to record sessions and performances, the people we support have a platform to share these with friends and family, near and far, and show their progress.

They can watch the sessions and sing along at home when they need an inclusive activity or sensory stimulation. Steve understands how important this is to the people we support:

“We’ve set up a YouTube channel for the people we support. They can freely access this at home and at BROCS. The channel features a personalised Makaton birthday message for each person we support, as well as other content they can watch and listen to as part of their music therapy participation.”

Building bridges for the future

Music plays a crucial role in achieving positive outcomes for autistic people. Steve has helped the people we support at BROCS to use music alongside their Makaton skills, empowering them to put on performances for the local community. Without Steve’s magical gift of music, and expert autism support, this wouldn’t have been possible.

“Music brings many benefits, all of which take someone from wishing they could, to knowing they can. We’ve got lots of talented people that use music as a platform to show their skills, which raises awareness of what a person with autism can achieve.”

With a rich history and deep connection to all people, music is more than just a type of art – it’s an emotion and an extension of who we are. It’s woven into the fabric of our lives and should be used to help people learn, grow, and achieve all that we dream possible.

For Steve, music is a force of mystery and fascination that has a unique meaning to all of us:  

“Songs are magic wands that switch on the lightbulbs in our minds. Good music brings good people together. The thing about music is, when you get the right vibe, and it hits you… it doesn’t hurt.”

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To learn more about how our specialist autism support could help you, a client, or a loved one, fill out our simple enquiry form and a member of our team will be in touch.

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