Symphonic Interventions: Investigating the Impact of Music Therapy on Social and Communication Skills in ASD Individuals

Ella Hou (Author) and Alice Xu (Mentor)

Notes of Progress

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental condition that impacts individuals’ interactions, communication, learning, and behavior (National Institute of Mental Health, 2023). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one novel stereotype of the disorder is characterized by their lack of social interaction. Consequently, individuals with ASD are confronted with both direct and indirect ramifications stemming from their deficits in social interaction. This impact tends to intensify during adolescence, a critical phase for psychosocial development where peer interactions are more than just carved out times for recess, but instead, are crucial milestones and opportunities. Adolescents with ASD often express a growing desire to engage in peer-based social experiences. However, they often contend with heightened feelings of loneliness compared to their neurotypical counterparts (NIMH, 2023). This discrepancy underscores the importance of providing safe and welcoming environments for social engagement. In this context, music holds a unique position of importance—the amiable and accommodating nature of music serves to mitigate the anxiety associated with direct interpersonal encounters, contributing to the enhancement of emotional regulation and social capabilities in adolescents with ASD.

Tuning Notes

The inherent capacity for musical enjoyment is a universal quality of human nature, that we so effortlessly indulge in due to its ability to unlock profound memories and emotions. It is through music that we are exposed to the sentiments, reflections, and conceptualizations of others around us, significantly amplifying our social encounters. The act of listening to music not only provides an experiential avenue for these elements but also plays a key role in understanding the coherent integration of sound elements with social exchanges (Ke et al., 2022). In a similar fashion, music, whether pursued as a simple hobby or interest, has no distinguishable “criteria,” making it an art form that is inherently easy to gravitate towards. The sole connection required is through intuitive feeling, spirit, and grooves. Likewise, the non-restrictive nature of music allows those with ASD to freely convey their affinity in a harmless approach, thus fostering a unique avenue for self-expression and exploring their creative autonomy.

Moreover, engaging with music encourages enhanced self-awareness in individuals with ASD (Molnar‐Szakacs & Heaton, 2012). The process of creating music requires much introspection and reflection with the musical art form mirroring one’s current emotional and mental headspace. This introspective practice allows individuals with ASD to delve into a deeper level of self-analysis, serving as an opportunity for individuals to become more at ease with expressing their vulnerability in ways that align with social norms, rather than having their behaviors predominantly driven by unchecked emotions. Considering music therapy time as a devoted activity, its repetitive and predictable nature provides individuals with ASD with a sense of comfort and familiarity. This aspect is crucial because it provides a stable and reassuring backdrop against which individuals can explore and express themselves, reducing anxiety and better managing instances of emotional overwhelm or meltdowns. Additionally, in these structured sessions, music emerges not just as a form of expression but also as a tool for organizing sensory input. This organization of sensory experiences through music can be especially beneficial in managing and mitigating the challenges associated with sensory processing irregularities common in ASD. Steven Zauderer, CEO of Cross River Behavioral Therapy Program, emphasizes the integration of music therapy into their didactic lessons. He advocates for the use of music’s rhythmic structure and melodic patterns as key components in creating tailored approaches that cater to individual needs, particularly in managing stress and promoting relaxation (Zauderer, 2023). These practices are especially beneficial in various overstimulating situations, serving as effective tools for individuals with ASD to navigate and regulate their emotions more healthily. In essence, music pushes autistic individuals’ ability to label, breakdown, and process their thoughts and feelings. Besides emotional regulation, music therapy also empowers individuals to feel more confident when presenting themselves in contexts of unfamiliarity, as they are conditioned to develop a stronger layer of self-understanding (Ruffin, 2021). This increased self-awareness empowers them to better articulate and manage their emotions and thoughts, fostering a greater sense of self-assurance in various social contexts.

In a similar fashion, music should be regarded as a universal language that transcends across typical communication barriers. According to the American Music Therapy Association (2012), “The interpersonal timing and reciprocity in…listening and responding to another person are augmented in music therapy with children and adults with autism to accommodate and address their styles of communication.” Music functions as a dynamic medium, delivering the emotional world that individuals with ASD experience to their non-autistic peers in a way that may be otherwise difficult to articulate verbally on their own. This becomes extremely helpful for caregivers and support figures as they could identify and address the needs of individuals with ASD more accurately. To reiterate, music provides a platform for individuals with ASD to cultivate and refine their emotional regulation skills, contributing to their overall emotional well-being.

Notes Playing Together

Group music therapy sessions, specifically designed to harness the power of collaborative musical activities, offer abundant opportunities for social engagement among peers. Research conducted at The Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre showed that “Necessary communicative behaviors, such as joint attention, eye contact, and turn‐taking, are characteristic events in shared, active music making and therefore inherent components of music therapy processes” (Geretsegger et al., 2014). Participants in these sessions not only collaborate to create music but also learn how to share instruments and connect in synchronized musical endeavors. Although group music therapy sessions show parallels to traditional academic classes, it should be emphasized that group music therapy sessions differ in fostering a more intimate group setting. This environment nurtures essential social skills such as cooperation, compromise, and teamwork. Group music therapy is all community-based, and contingent on emotional connection that offers a shared musical bond participants can experience together.

Notes in Harmony

In conclusion, the intricate and versatile influence of music extends well beyond its traditional role as mere entertainment. Its multifaceted impact on non-verbal communication, inclusive social participation, emotional connectivity, and routine establishes it as a truly valuable and inclusive instrument—pun intended—in enhancing social proficiencies of individuals with ASD. The dimensional attraction of music provides a unique platform for expression of neurodivergent individuals, allowing their non-autistic peers to comprehend the nuances of non-verbal communication more deeply. As an enriching force, music removes barriers, allowing individuals to flourish socially and creating a harmonious intersection of expression and connection.


American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). (2012). Music Therapy As a Treatment Modality for Autism Spectrum Disorders, American Music Therapy Association 

Geretsegger, M., Elefant, C., Mössler, K. A., & Gold, C. (2014). Music therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 10.1002/14651858.CD004381.pub3

Ke, X., Song, W., Yang, M., Li, J., & Liu, W. (2022). Effectiveness of music therapy in children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychiatry,

Molnar‐Szakacs, I., & Heaton, P. (2012). Music: a unique window into the world of autism. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,

National Institute of Mental Health. (2023). Autism Spectrum Disorder. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.,first%202%20years%20of%20life.

Ruffin, Dein. (2021). Benefits of Music Therapy for Autism. Living with Autism,,and%20generate%20confidence%20in%20them. 

Zauderer, Steven. (2023). Music Therapy and Autism: Key Benefits. Cross River Therapy,,stimulation%20in%20a%20controlled%20setting.