Music Therapy for Children with Autism

Blog post written by music therapist Alyssa Graber, MME, MT-BC

Music Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder

There are years of evidence to support the efficacy of music therapy with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and the body of research only continues to grow. A Cochrane Review from 2014 looked at ten studies about music therapy with children with ASD, and found that music therapy was superior to placebo therapy or standard care in the areas of social interaction, non-verbal and verbal communication skills, initiating behavior, and social-emotional reciprocity. They also found that music therapy was superior to placebo therapy or standard care in the areas of social adaptation, joy, and the quality of parent-child relationships.[1]

The research happening in music therapy and ASD is absolutely vital, but if given the opportunity to observe a music therapy session with a child with ASD, you will likely see more than just goal areas being met. You will see children being allowed to thrive and grow in a way that is joyful and meaningful to them, engaging in success-oriented musical experiences. Often, the clients don’t even realize they’re in a “therapy” session, they’re just excited for “music time!” The music therapists that get to work with these remarkable children get to witness their growth and learning while providing fun, engaging musical experiences, and forming a special bond through music.

Music Therapy at Bridgeway Academy

Bridgeway Academy is a non-profit organization with a mission to inspire the potential and celebrate the ability of every child. Founded by speech-language pathologist Abby David and music therapist Erin Nealy in 2005 as Helping Hands Center for Special Needs, the organization’s goal is to help each child reach his or her highest potential.

Since its beginning, nearly 15 years ago, music therapy has been an integral part of the services offered at Bridgeway Academy. There are currently 5 board-certified music therapists employed at Bridgeway Academy, and together they serve over 200 students and clients in individual and group settings. Bridgeway Academy is also a national roster music therapy internship site and has assisted in the education and clinical training of over 40 music therapy interns.

What Does a Music Therapy Session Look Like at Bridgeway Academy?

At Bridgeway Academy, music therapists use music to help children learn and grow in a variety of goal areas, such as social and pragmatic communication skills, articulation, receptive and expressive language development, fine and gross motor skills, and cognitive skills. Music therapists serve as part of an interdisciplinary team and often collaborate and co-treat with Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Psychologists.

If you were to walk into a music therapy session at Bridgeway, you may see a music therapist facilitating a movement song that encourages the student to work on gross motor skills such as stomping, jumping, spinning, clapping, and wiggling around. Or you might see a music therapist working on fine motor skills with a child to maintain a grasp on a mallet to play a preferred drum. Perhaps you walk into a session where a music therapist is co-treating with a Speech-Language Pathologist and you get to observe the music therapist singing a favorite song and asking the child to sing along, while the SLP helps the child to produce a certain sound. Or you may see the SLP helping the child to use their Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device to request their favorite instrument or song.


Regardless of which session you walk into, you will see a music therapist using the client’s preferred music, instruments, and activities to provide them with an enjoyable and successful experience.

About Alyssa Graber

Alyssa has been a board-certified music therapist at Bridgeway Academy since June 2014. She is also a supervising music therapist for the music therapy internship at Bridgeway. Alyssa is an alumna of Concordia College in Moorhead, MN where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She then went on to pursue a graduate equivalency and Master’s degree in music therapy from the University of Kansas. Her master’s thesis focused on using transition songs with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Alyssa has presented at state and regional music therapy conferences, the Ohio Speech-Language-Hearing conference, and various national conferences. She is also a yoga teacher and enjoys practicing and teaching yoga in her spare time.

[1] Geretsegger M, Elefant C, Mössler KA, Gold C. Music therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD004381. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004381.pub3

L. Samuel Gracida

L. Samuel Gracida

Samuel is Sam's Fans Operating Director and our primary blogger!


  1. Karen Gayton on October 22, 2019 at 9:46 am

    Amazing work with amazing kids!

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