Research literature regularly reports that children with autism show a heightened interest in and affinity with music from a very early age.

My Teenager Still Only Likes Wiggles Music!

This interest might take different forms, but for many children their first loves may often be children’s music groups like the Wiggles, the Hooley Dooleys and Hi-5. These groups are targeted well for children, being predictable, colourful and bright.

For children with autism, this music may have provided a sense of security and wellbeing during their early and often very confusing years – a safe haven to return to when things are not going right. Considering also how young children will often prefer their favourite music to be played over and over (and over) again, this sense of association between this music and a sense of comfort becomes a well-paved path in the neural circuits of the brain.

If a child is solely interested in this music, around the age of 7-9 years it may start to become awkward for siblings (why does your brother listen to baby music?) and noticeable to others at social gatherings (she still really likes Hi-5, doesn’t she?) Is this a problem? And if so, whose problem is it?

Research also shows that young people with autism share the same musical preferences as peers their own age. However, they first need to be exposed to different kinds of music in the first place. Moving a child on to more age-appropriate music is not a case of completely replacing the music they already love with something else, but about giving many, many opportunities to experience different kinds of music, in different places and with a range of favourite people.  Putting on different kinds of music whilst cooking dinner so it is heard in the home, playing different radio stations in the car, having dance hour with siblings with Top 40 music videos playing can all be low-pressure ways to introduce some new sounds into the day. Sometimes it can take a long time for an interest to emerge in other types of music, and this is fine. Creating positive moments around new music – playing when a favourite grandparent or relative is visiting can be helpful, or when preparing or eating a favourite food, or playing a super-fun game. If they know how to look up music on youtube, make sure they have the option of looking up new music and artists as well by having their photo and the name nearby. In their own free time, they may still choose to watch and listen to the music of their childhood. But over time, the most important thing is that they develop an appreciation of a wide range of music in order to participate more fully at social occasions such as dances, weddings and concerts with the important people in their lives.

Bronte Arns
Giant Steps Sydney
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