"Some children and adults can sing better than they can speak. They may respond better if words and sentences are sung to them.” – says Temple Grandin about singing.

It has been found that persons with autism have minimal or no impairment in musical ability. Parents of nearly every child with autism will tell you that one of their child's favorite things is music – they may not pick up nuance in facial expression such as distinguishing between a happy and sad face but do pick up emotional nuance in music and can distinguish happy from sad music.

Bapsi, in its effort to help children with mental challenges, organizes special music workshops for children with autism and other mental challenges. It also provide ways to help them monitor their progress using special software. In the programme, the well known classical singer and teacher Aparna Panshikar helps children improve their singing. The classical Indian tradition is very well suited for persons with autism to learn how to sing. Verbalization, which is difficult for them, is not essential in this form of singing – in Alaap, for instance. The tradition is rich in wisdom related to learning how to make music. The use of the tanpura which is conveniently available as an app on smart phones makes it much easier for the singer to sing in tune, and helps the caregiver to help the child in singing.

How can singing help you?

Parents of nearly every child with autism will tell you that one of their child's favorite things is music. Persons with autism typically have minimal or no impairment in musical ability – they may not pick up nuance in facial expression such as distinguishing between a happy and sad face but do pick up emotional nuance in music and can distinguish happy from sad music.

In our view, the classical Indian tradition is very well suited for persons with autism to learn how to sing. Verbalization, which is difficult for them, is not essential in this form of singing -- take the Alaap, for instance. Indeed, the tradition is rich in wisdom related to learning how to make music. The use of the tanpura (conveniently available as an app on smart phones) makes it much easier for the singer to sing in tune.

Recent research has determined that there is an area in the right half of the brain known to interpret written musical notes and passages of notes, that corresponds in location to the left-half area of the brain known to interpret written letters and words. In stroke patients who experience damage in the language areas on the left side of the brain, it appears as if the mirror area of the right side of the brain takes over this function as the patient recovers language ability, much as an understudy in a play takes over when the star is unable to perform. One of the implications of this research is that music can be a powerful therapeutic tool for building language – perhaps to train the musical area of the right brain to take on the ability to comprehend and produce language.

Scientific studies suggest that singing can have positive effects on people's health. A preliminary study based on self-reported data from a survey of students participating in choral singing found benefits including increased lung capacity, improved mood, stress reduction, as well as perceived social and spiritual benefits. Singing may positively influence the immune system through the reduction of stress. One study found that both singing and listening to choral music reduces the level of stress hormones and increases immune function.

Apart from all these benefits, one of the most important benefits is the exercise it gives to the body of the singer. Singing requires highly developed muscle control, and a correct posture. It is a pleasant exercise for muscles from the pelvis to the head, particularly the lungs, resulting in a plentiful supply of oxygen to the whole body. Habitual good posture also improves the overall health by enabling better blood circulation and preventing fatigue and stress on the body.

While singing is good for everyone, some of its benefits are particularly relevant for persons with autism. These include:
  • Physical relaxation and release of physical tension
  • Stimulation of cognitive capacities – attention, concentration, memory, learning
  • Therapeutic benefit in relation to long-standing psychological and social problem 
  • Engaging in a pleasurable activity which combines multiple capacities of the body and the mind (sharp hearing, fine motor control) 
  • A sense of greater personal, emotional and physical wellbeing 
  • People with autism often have a flat or monotone way of speaking. Singing helps them to learn to vary their tones when speaking. 
  • Emotional release and reduction of feelings of stress 
  • An increased sense of self-confidence and self-esteem A sense of happiness, positive mood, joy, elation and feeling high.
  • Collective bonding through coordinated activity following the same pulse 
  • The potential for personal contact with like-minded people and development of personal supportive friendships and constructive collaborative relationships 
  • An appreciation for building a product which is greater than the sum of its parts \
  • A sense of personal transcendence beyond mundane and everyday realities, and heightened appreciation of music 
  • A sense of contributing to the wider community through public performance 
  • Being engaged in a valued, meaningful, worthwhile activity that gives a sense of purpose and motivation