Using Music to Teach a Non-Verbal Autistic Child

Using Music to Teach a Non-Verbal Autistic Child

Teaching a child with autism requires a lot of patience, and when the child is non-verbal, the challenges are compounded. Thankfully, music is an effective way to communicate with and reach a non-verbal child, when nothing else will.

Many autistic children are musically inclined, humming tunes they have heard in the past repetitively. And for autistic children with ADHD, while they lack extended focus on one single task, you may notice them trailing off and humming different songs on occasion – often whatever is on their mind at that moment. This is a strong signal that music can be an effective teaching method for them.

The Basics: ABCs, 123s, Days of the Week

While your non-verbal child may not repeat letters, numbers, or words after you, by stringing these words into a song, your child will be learning key vocabulary despite not speaking them.

Start off with the basics and sing the ABCs, 123s, and Days of the Week to your child. Use brightly colored flashcards as you sing them, as these visual aids will coach your child to read.

For instance, with the alphabet, once the child is familiar with the song and the flashcards, I will then do three things. Firstly, I will sing “ABCD….” and trail off so that the child will take over and hum the rest of the alphabet. Next, I will intentionally pass the child the flashcard in the wrong direction, and often, he will be able to lay out the flashcard in the correct position. Finally, for each letter, I will give him two cards to choose from. This serves as an indication of the child’s learning progress, whether or not he speaks.

Adding Vocabulary Words to Songs

I often compose songs to teach words and actions such as waving hello, clapping your hands, or even routine actions like brushing your teeth. With ADHD children who tend to run around during lessons, I also use a song to remind them to come back to the piano where I’m at. These songs then become tools that parents can use at home.

Here’s an example of a song I rewrote to teach the names of everyday objects:

Johnny works with one hammer
One hammer, one hammer
Johnny works with one hammer
Johnny builds a chair

[Replace the underlined words with your child’s name and use other objects around the house. Click here for the original song.]

Patience

Keep in mind that sometimes the child may not respond, or may not respond fully. And that is okay. Children with ASD need time and space to think, and sometimes they trail off without answering at all. But as educators and caretakers, we have to practice patience and give them the space and opportunity to respond when they are ready.

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada

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