Three fun therapies that can enhance brain connectivity in your child

Two students of Harambee Arts

By Debra Muzikar

Who said therapy can’t be fun? Art, dance, and music helps integrate the mind, body, and spirit as well as enhance brain connectivity.

Art Therapy

Art therapy is more than doing arts and crafts. An art therapist can create a safe place for a child to express themselves and get in touch with deep emotions.

Many Autistic children are skilled in art so this is a strength-based therapy. Therapists are professionals with masters or doctorates who have a degree in art therapy.

For Autistic children and young children images are their primary ‘container of experience.’ A skilled art therapist can help your child work through confusing emotions through drawing or creating in a safe environment.

An art therapist can work towards integrating the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Some of the benefits I’ve observed through art therapy are improved eye-hand coordination, penmanship, spatial sense, independence in making choices, and verbal communication.

Some things to remember about art therapy is (1) the process is more important than the outcome, (2) art can serve as a self-regulation tool for children on the spectrum, (3) Sensory integration can be incorporated into art projects, and for Autistic children and others who often have trouble fitting in, (4) an art therapist can work on communication and social skills. Parker-Hairston (1990) found Autistic children showed an increase in confidence, allowing greater verbal and nonverbal social interactions after art therapy.

Two students of Harambee Arts
Two students of Harambee Arts

The sensory aspects of art are fulfilling to many children with autism. Kevin, my son, loves thick paints. He enjoys the feelings of the paint brush as it drags across the canvas. Other kids enjoy sinking their fingers into a ball of clay.

Unlike most therapies, the art room can be a place where your child can set the parameters: the start and stop time, the medium, the subject, and the colors. For kids who are so often guided by therapists, art can be a liberating experience. A skilled art therapist will ask the child to direct the session. Initiation is often a weakness among kids on the spectrum. By asking the child to make choices about materials and subject matter, the child learns to make decisions independently.

The act of doing art can actually prevent a person from acting out. Art therapy pioneer Edith Kramer considered the art activity itself to have healing properties. She was the first to observe a person who may have destructive or aggressive feelings could take those feelings and put it into form thus preventing them from being acted out. Recent research supports Kramer’s position.

To find an therapist in your town visit the American Art Therapy Association.

Dance or Movement Therapy

Movement and dance are fun ways to enhance brain function. Joanne Lara, founder of Autism Movement Therapy which combines dance and movement, says the value is “an empowering sensory integration strategy that connects both the left and right hemispheres of the brain (interhemispheric integration) by combining patterning, visual movement calculation, audile receptive processing, rhythm and sequencing into a “whole brain” cognitive thinking approach.”

Joanne sees immediate results which include improvement in behavioral, emotional, academic, social and speech and language skills. The primary goal of Autism Movement Therapy is that after 12 -14 weeks of one to two or sessions a week, the individual will be more compliant when asked to complete on-task activities, will interact with typical general education peers more frequently, and will be using both sides of his brain for processing.

She sees her students become healthier, with improved self-esteem. My son Kevin participated in one of her workshops last year with great results. One of the benefits Kevin received from the workshop was bonding with other teenagers and young adults on the autism spectrum. So often it is hard for them to find friends.


To find out more visit Autism Movement Therapy.

Music Therapy

Music therapy is another fun therapy that helps with brain connectivity. Research has shown that children who may be resistant to regular speech therapy may be motivated by music therapy interventions.

“Whatever scrambles the speech centers of the brain in people on the autism spectrum tends to leave the musical ones intact. Combined with research suggesting that early exposure to music increases the number of neural connections in the corpus collosum, it is a “no brainer” (pun intended) to provide as much meaningful interaction with music for those with autism – and everyone else – as possible,” Dr. Stephen Shore says.

Music therapy is not the same as taking music lessons. A skilled music therapist will know how to work with this segment of the population.

“When giving music lessons to children with autism I make the process as experiential and project-based as possible with minimal verbal instruction,” Dr. Shore says.


There is research that rhythm therapies may be beneficial to autism. Hardy and LaGasse (2013) consider the use of auditory rhythmic cueing to improve motor functioning in ASD by looking at the research with rhythmic rehabilitation.

Nina Kraus, a Professor at Northwest University, states “music education can be an effective strategy in helping … children with developmental dyslexia or autism, more accurately encode speech.”

She states, “we’ve found that years of music training may also improve how sounds are processed for language and emotion.”

Researchers in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory that Kraus directs have found the first evidence that playing a musical instrument enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds.”It can enhance everyday tasks, including reading and listening in noise,” Dr. Kraus states.

To find a music therapist in your town visit the American Music Therapy Association.

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