“A lot of our pupils have counselling, a lot are involved with CAMHS and to be honest what you did was more useful.” Teacher
Our Autism Resource Bases Music Programme completed its first year in July 2023. Funded by Youth Music, made possible by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, our two-year pilot programme is increasing musical opportunities for autistic children and young people in 18 specialist autism resource bases in England.
Research shows that many children with autism spectrum condition appear to have a special affinity for music, which can be used to support language development, social skills and emotional regulation. Around 5–10% may have unusual musical potential through exceptional auditory development that occurs in the early years.
However nationally, music provision in specialist autism resource bases is inconsistent and not all young people have access to regular music sessions.
Working in collaboration with Resonate – Liverpool’s Music Education Hub, Sound Foundation Somerset, and Harrow Music Hub, the project aims to enhance the use of music in autism resource bases linked to mainstream schools.
To date, seven schools have taken part, each hosting two or three Live Music Now musicians for an eight-week project. Following consultation with children, young people and staff, the musicians plan a series of flexible activities to encourage musical exploration and creativity using classroom percussion, band instruments and digital apps. This often leads to young people working together to create their own piece of music. Classroom staff also have the opportunity to develop their musical skills and resources to support ongoing musical activity.
Lead Musician for the programme, Alex Lupo, has identified project impact in three key areas so far, following feedback and reflective analysis:
Communication: Music has emerged as a powerful channel for fostering communication amongst participants. Pupils have found new ways to express themselves, convey their emotions, and establish unexpected connections through music.
“Some of our pupils have been able to work together cooperatively, exploring agency and control in ways we hadn’t anticipated.” Teacher
Emotional Regulation: Music has proven to be an invaluable tool for emotional regulation. By engaging participants and creating a focal point for shared attention, music has provided a sense of focus. The impact of tailored and accessible musical sessions has been particularly striking.
“Some of our pupils, despite appearing confident, have shown significant growth in exploring control, agency, and choice.” Teacher
Building Confidence and Self-Expression: Music has empowered individuals to embrace their identities and express themselves authentically. Through guided activities and imaginative free play, young people have gained confidence and a profound sense of accomplishment, enhancing their self-esteem.
“The creative musical approach made it feel safe, allowing our pupils to explore their own ideas on their terms.” Teacher
The project has also altered attitudes and perceptions towards music as a valuable tool for creative and social development. Staff and pupils have experienced first-hand the transformative potential of music, through participating in the project. One staff member said, “I don’t think that we necessarily understood that music making could be creative prior to this project. I can now see the significant impact that music can have for our pupils.”
At a time when supporting the mental wellbeing of children and young people is more crucial than ever, this pilot programme aims to equip autism bases with the knowledge and tools required to bring more creative music making into the classroom.
Based on the success of the programme to date, we aim to expand into additional regions, providing more musical opportunities for autistic children and young people.
Watch a webinar here by leading researcher and music educator Professor Adam Ockelford as he shares his research about the musical development of autistic children and young people.