Music therapist and oligofrenopedagogy specialist has been working with children with autism for several years, as well as conducting research on the impact of music therapy on the development of patients with developmental disabilities at the University of Silesia. "Music therapy helps children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) improve their verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as the social, cognitive, motor and emotional sphere. Changes in these aspects are noticeable after treatment" - Knapik- Szweda told PAP.
At the same time she stressed that music therapy, recognized by the American National Autism Centre as "a promising therapeutic intervention for children with autism", should be conducted as part of a holistic rehabilitation with the participation of specialists, including among others, psychologists and physiotherapists.
Citing foreign researchers, Knapik-Szweda reminded that music facilitates the acquisition of sensory, tactile and auditory experience by a child with autism through perception or hearing sound. She added that in addition, music motivates children with ASD to free and natural participation in the learning process.
According to Knapik-Szweda, basic principle of conducting classes for children with autism is their constant structure, which gives participants a sense of security. It is also important to establish relations, gain trust and adapt to the psychophysical condition of patients.
"A certain difficulty for children with autism is also the fact that they are able to play, but in their own way. Music activities give them a lot of freedom, and those issues that are somewhat unpleasant for them, such as social contact, is presented to them in a different more pleasant manner" - explained the therapist.
One of the basic elements of music used in the treatment of autistic children is the rhythm. "Rhythm is an ordering factor, it is repeating which makes it predictable. This in turn gives children a sense of security" - explained Knapik-Szweda.
In her opinion, the rhythm can also affect familiarizing children with ASD with certain patterns needed, for example, in communication. "Free instrument playing with a therapist helps autistic children gradually learn to imitate the way of playing or extracting sound by the therapist. They also learn to repeat certain patterns, for example when the therapist plays the instrument, and then in a suggestive manner waits for the response of the child. This teaches the child alternation, which occurs present in a dialogue with another person" - noted therapist.
Possibility of expressing feelings and experiences with music is another essential element of therapy, according to Knapik-Szweda. This includes instrumental or vocal improvisation, for example singing songs, combinations of vowels and imitating sounds. "The fact that the child can externalise feelings, experiences, feels important. This increases the child's self-esteem, and emotional sphere is developed" - she noted.
Playing instruments, in turn, affects the development of motor skills. This includes, for example, gripping a stick and hitting the membrane, as well as clapping or stomping feet.
Knapik-Szweda argues that music therapy should begin as early as possible. "The initial symptoms of autism appear at the age of 1-2 years, so a good time to start working is the age of 2-3 years" - she said.
"Initially, therapy is conducted individually, so that the child can learn to stay with another person who is not a parent. The next step is working in groups of 2-3 persons, when we try to develop social interaction, like being with peers, contacts and playing with them" - explained Knapik-Szweda.
Duration of music therapy for children with autism is individual - depending on the degree of disorder and the possible combination of the disease with disabilities. "Ideally, therapy should last at least a year, sometimes it continues for 2-3 years and then it is a long-term therapy, but still connected to therapeutic objectives set by the music therapist" - the therapist added.
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