Ideas for Musical Activities and Games in the Early Years of Autism

IMAGINE: Autism trials resources for families to explore music and investigates the role of music making in everyday life.

The importance of music for children on the autism spectrum is well-established and it is frequently highlighted as a means of creative engagement, access to culture, promoting language, learning, and social engagement. Understanding the role that music plays in autistic children’s lives is central to developing informed support programs that can meet their needs and support development. Examples of exceptional musical talent in people with autism have been documented throughout history, and incidents of Absolute Pitch are thought to be higher in autistic people than in the general population (around 1 in 5 in comparison with 1 in 10,000). However, no consistent program for music and autism currently exists and there is an urgent need for more research investigating the developmental trajectories and strategies for practical engagement for this demographic. Although some music therapy programs have been shown to be effective, methodologies are disparate and there is a distinct lack of evidence-based procedures in this area.  The difficulties of access to music therapy programs for the majority of families’ means that more research is required into practical strategies that can be truly impactful. IMAGINE: Autism (Ideas for Musical Activities and Games in the Early Years of Autism) aims to fill this space by exploring how families can support their child’s musical development. It provides simple, everyday activities to promote musical engagement for parents and caregivers to undertake and is designed to encourage families to incorporate music-making more readily into everyday interactions.

IMAGINE: Autism is a joint project involving researchers at both the CPS and the Applied Music Research Centre at the University of Roehampton. The project is part of a wider initiative directed by Professor Adam Ockelford to develop music resources and promote access to music for families and children with learning difficulties and perceptual differences.

IMAGINE: Autism builds on the legacy of the Sounds of Intent Early Years project, which recognized the potential and abilities in neurodiverse children, and the importance of music as an outlet for creative expression and emotional regulation. Working with families across London and the South East, the project is trialling a set of resources that can help children and families explore how to use music as a means for communication and playful interaction, and monitoring the impact this can have on their social communication and family wellbeing. Working in dialogue with the participant families, the resources are developed cooperatively to meet their needs and will be made freely available online at the end of the project.

The aims of the project are to empower parents and caregivers to make use of music as an enjoyable and engaging means of communication for children on the autism spectrum and to support both their skill acquisition and healthy neurodevelopment. By encouraging parents to focus on positive forms of interaction, the project provides respite from the deficit-driven models that so frequently characterise interactions with both their children and healthcare practitioners. Instead, the project uses music as a means for promoting wellbeing and developing relationships.

Project team

Tania Lisboa, RCM (PI)
Adam Ockelford, University of Roehampton
Caitlin Shaughnessy, RCM | U Roehampton
Angela Voyajolu, University of Roehampton

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