Dance Therapy: Children with Autism

Hello everyone, so I’m doing a final project for my dance appreciation class and my topic is to research dance movement therapy and the effect it has on children with autism. I wanted to share what I learned with you all since dance and medicine cross many disciplines that never occurred to me before taking this course. So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy!

The relationship between dance and medicine is one that has been studied for years. Specifically dance movement therapy as non-conventional therapy for children with autism.  In case you don’t know, dance therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement that enhances intellectual, emotional, and motor functions of an individual. In individuals with Autism, communication challenges and motor functions begin to develop at an early age, and this is why early intervention dance therapy can be beneficial. This is so prevalent in our society today because one in 68 children in the U.S have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Here is a link to a more in-depth introduction to dance therapy if you’re interested!

By the use of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), individuals are able to work on motor movement as well as have sensorimotor experiences to enhance their mental states. Generally, when using DMT, it takes place in group settings. However, specifically with children, these sessions usually happen in one-on-one settings (Hilderbrandt pg. 3). The reason being that the therapist/specialist is able to focus on individual needs of children who are struggling with learning basic focus and social engagement. While these one on one sessions are important in therapy, it is also common for some children to work alongside their parents (Deveraux, Psychology Today). Working on these skills with families helps to build the quality of their relationships.

One of the movements they practice with dance therapy is mirroring, so the child must observe and mirror the movement of the therapist, this is a way to engage the brain by the sole use of the body (Martin, pg. 549). With DMT, the connection of bodily and mental states within the child is strengthened which in turn helps with the negative symptoms of autism!

The reason this therapy is so important is because it has been shown to decrease a significant amount of negative autistic behaviors such as motor, social, and communication deficits. A study conducted just last year in 2016, they found DMT to decrease “off task” behavior, time spent wandering, time spent resisting the teacher, and time spent showing negative responses to being touched or embraced. Although this study did not show specific symptom reduction in children with autism, they were able to see a significant total decrease in overall symptoms compared to the control group. Even the slightest decrease in these symptoms makes such an important difference. 

It is important for us as individuals to see the impact that dance therapy has not only on children with autism, but dance therapy as a whole. This non-conventional therapy is a way for individuals to reconnect with themselves and the world around them. Dance therapy is so diverse and is used in rehabilitation and also used in disease prevention and mental health. It is also great to study and use because there are no limitations, no one is excluded, and there are many ways we can adapt and change the therapy to work with individuals based on their specific needs.

As we know, there is no “treatment” for autism, but there are many possibilities of early intervention. Dance therapy has been proven to be an advantageous technique in decreasing negative symptoms of autism. DMT is such a healthy and engaging way to make the children feel as if they are learning something while getting them involved in the tasks at hand. This is a great way for children to build relationships and enhance their overall quality of life, all with enjoying movement of their bodies!

So, this is what I learned about dance therapy and its effects on children with autism. If you have used dance therapy for yourself or anyone you know has been through dance therapy for whatever reason, I would love to hear your story! Feel free to comment below or send me an email. I love to see the impact that dance has on society and how it relates to the amazing field of medicine!

Thanks so much for reading guys!



Works Cited/References:

Hilderbrandt, Malin K., “We Dance and Find Each Other”: Effects of Dance/Movement Therapy on Negative Symptoms on Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 4, December 2016, p. 1-17.

Martin, Mary. “Moving on the spectrum: Dance/movement therapy as a potential early intervention tool for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” The Arts of Psychotherapy, Vol. 41, November 2015, p.545-553

Deveraux, Christina. “Dance/Movement Therapy and Autism.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2 April. 2014







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