Innovative music therapy helping people with autism

ABC7 News July 2021

Author: Meagan Miller

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA – An innovative therapy is helping people with autism. 

Music therapy has been miraculous in helping people walk after suffering a stroke. 

Grammy-award-winning singer, Ed Sheeran, said he used Eminem’s songs to help him get rid of his stutter. Now, music therapy is being used in a relatively new way.

Think back to when you learned the ABC’s. The alphabet is taught through song.

“If you tried to just say your ABC’s that information doesn’t really stick in your brain the same way,” said Ana-Alicia Lopez, the co-owner of The House of Music Therapy in Fort Myers.

The goal when singing the alphabet isn’t to have perfect pitch or harmony, or really to learn anything musical at all. The same is true for music therapy.

“A lot of times we get requests for maybe music lessons. There’s a big difference between music therapy and music lessons,” Lopez said.

Instead, music therapy is about working with a certified music therapist to support non-musical goals and evidence shows it works.

“We know the potential that music has on the brain,” Lopez said. “For example, rhythm impacts our motor system and how our body moves. We’re naturally rhythmic beings. Sometimes you might see someone walking to a rhythm or walking to a beat and it’s almost instantaneous.”

Lopez and her team use those connections to help people overcome a variety of challenges.

“We can be playing drums, we can be playing piano, we can be singing, we can be dancing,” said Mikelia Wallace, a therapist with The House of Music Therapy.

Like Sofia Martinez, some of their clients have autism.

“Music is fascinating in the autism world,” said Chris Howard, co-owner of The House of Music Therapy.

They used music, something Sofia loves, to help her learn how to talk.

“At the time when she was completely nonverbal, or vocal, we used signs. Sometimes to teach her new signs, we’d use music,” said Sofia’s mom, Yashira Martinez.

Martinez was fully preparing to never hear words come out of her daughter’s mouth, but Sofia is beating the odds.

“I was told by her neurologist that she wouldn’t talk, stick to sign language and I was like ok I have no problem sticking to sign language,” Martinez said. “And she’s talking so much better. Now we’re coming into the pronunciation.”

Sofia also works with other specialists, including a speech therapist. The music ties in with some of those other treatments.

“She loves Lady Gaga Poker Face and just recently she was like ‘oh do you want to listen to Poker Face?’ Our goal is the p sound,” Martinez said.

On top of struggling to speak, Martinez said Sofia also deals with major meltdowns.

“Sofia can become very excessive. Everything has to be perfect,” she said.

Music can help manage those type of behavioral challenges.

“Typical developing brains can ignore information that’s not necessary, but autistic brains have a really hard time doing that. Music can help organize all of these connections,” Lopez said.

That’s because music is soothing. It has structure and it’s predictable.

“For her, this is not therapy. This is not school, it’s fun,” Martinez said.

Saying certain sounds and self-regulating may seem straightforward – as simple as learning the ABC’S. But for Sofia, these are big hurdles. They’re jumps worth celebrating.

“When you focus on just the challenges, you tend to forget all the things they can do. There’s no limit to what she can do. Don’t set that bar for your child, just help them” Martinez said.

Lopez and Howard said music therapy is covered by most insurance plans. For more information on The House of Music Therapy, visit their website.

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