Thursday, October 04, 2007

Music Therapy, Autism, and Dr. Tomatis

The fields of music therapy, music healing, and music medicine have been around for centuries. But I don't know exactly when therapists discovered the power of music with autistic children. Autistic children have, among other things, a great difficulty or even an absence of speech. Typically these children rarely make eye contact but miraculously they respond powerfully to music! Dr. Alfred Tomatis, with whom I studied in 1991 was one of the first therapists of our time to focus extensively on working with autistic children as well as children with PDD, and other learning disabilities. Enjoy the following story:

"By the time Debbie Clark took Adam, her autistic three year-old son, to a music therapist, he could barely speak. At the music-therapy clinic at California State University in Northridge, USA, therapists encouraged the autistic child to express himself by playing instruments and beating out rhythms on drums. They put conversations to song in order to get Adam talking."In tree months, the change was phenomenal," says Clark. "Before, Adam would never look a stranger in the eye, let alone speak. Now, after his music therapy session, he waves to the therapists and says, "Bye, Jim. Bye, Ron. See you next week." Believe me, that's music to my ears."Music, researchers around the world are discovering, can help healing in a variety of ways. Burn victims encouraged to sing while having their dressing changed experience less pain. Cancer patients who listen to music and practice improvising on instruments, for example, see their levels of stress hormones drop and their immune systems get stronger. Part of music's power comes from ability to relieve anxiety, which can suppress immune defenses as well as intensify the experience of pain. Music, especially singing, takes a person's mind off the suffering and soothes tension. "By helping patients relax, music eases pain and may even speed recovery," says Richard Fratianne, a noted professor of surgery. The experiences of autistic children like Adam Clark suggest that music's effects reach deeper, even influencing brain development. The therapeutic use of music seems to activate different parts of the brain, including networks associated with motor control, memory, emotion and speech, explains neuroscientist and musician Michael Thaut. In his own work, Thaut is using the close link between music and movement to help people slowed by strokes, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease.Says Northridge music therapist Ron Borczon: "Traditional healers have used songs and drumming for centuries. We're simply rediscovering what they always knew -- that music, through its profound effect on mind and body, can be a potent way to help people get well."

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