The Arts and Children with Autism

My son interest in music has been hit or miss. He liked listening to songs a few years ago, but then it went away. It’s came back last summer as we were on a driving trip. He has never really been drawn to musical instruments.

Why are musical instruments sometimes hard for our kids?

In the book, “Ido in Autismland,“ written by a non-verbal teenager with autism, the author believes many autistic children have a difficult time communicating from their brains to their hands or limbs. He says there is “a disconnect” in what their thoughts are telling their hands to do, and an awkward response with the actual doing.

He goes on to say that he has frequently been embarrassed. “I did not tell my hands to reach out like that, but they did it anyway. At other times, I asked my hand to do something, and it didnʼt listen.”

So, how can children with autism play a musical instrument?

With that type of disconnect, Iʼve often wondered how any child with autism can possibly learn how to play a musical instrument, play a sport, or be in any way coordinated.

Whatʼs one way this can happen?

As with typical children, many children on the autism spectrum are simply born with certain abilities. They are both to play music, draw, paint, or sing.

There is another way that our kids can learn to be artists or athletes, practice and patience.

A determined child—our kids are some of the most determined kids out there—can accomplish anything.

For example, my son can finally throw and catch a baseball—at age twelve. He still looks a bit awkward, but he can, at least, do it now.

Athletic skills came naturally to me. By age three, I was already coordinated in many ways.

However, my child with autism wasn’t and still struggles with strength and learning. He has trouble with hand/eye coordination so much so that the skill of catching a baseball was delayed.

But, he wanted to do it (And, his baseball-loving Daddy also wouldnʼt give up on him.)

Even though Iʼm somewhat naturally gifted in athletics, I still understood the need for practice. I have preached this to my son. You have to practice again and again and again—for years.

What about the arts?

The arts are attractive to our kids.

I know an autistic teenager who is a wonderful artist. (She did my book cover!). Itʼs not only what she wants to do with her life, but painting/drawing/working in that visual medium gives her a sense of peace and calming order.

She was literally drawn to it.

Music draws people to it.

Even though some autistic kids struggle with an overload of sound, others are soothed by particular sounds. The sound of a cello, a violin, or a piano.

Something like learning and playing music also allows a certain level of concentration to develop. I think this can only be a good thing. Our kids are drawn to focusing only on one thing at a time. So, music might be a perfect fit, especially for a naturally gifted child.

How is music used in the autism world?

There are some interventions that use music as a tool to help our kids learn the skills that they lack. My son wasnʼt drawn to music or art, but I know that specific intervention works well for many people with autism.

Have we ever tried music?

Of course. At one point I won a free piano lesson on an online auction. I did bid on it so that I could take my son to the lesson and see if playing the piano “spoke” to him.

He liked it, but not enough to pursue it further.

Still, learning to play any musical instrument is about practice, repetition, and patience. If your child expresses an interest, I hope you try it.

You never know what discovery you could make if you tried something like art, music, or writing.

More on Kimberly Kaplan:

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