In Pursuit of Wellness – Music and Autism

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The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) – organised by the non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI) – is by far the most prestigious conference held on the business of wellness – an industry worth $4.4 trillion and growing rapidly. 

The GWS listed ‘music for wellness’ in their list of top global trends for 2020, and since then, apps, platforms, related research and resulting evidence for the impactful role that music can play in wellness has since gained significant traction.

In September of 2022, Myndstream brought its cutting-edge musical experiments and awe-inspiring performances to the Global Wellness Summit in Tel Aviv.

Myndstream curates and creates music for health and wellbeing backed by credible research and science, and the businesses’ research into music-for-wellbeing and neurodiversity is featured in the GWC’s new film series, In Pursuit of Wellness

In Pursuit of Wellness – An Introduction  

In Pursuit of Wellness is an extraordinary new film series produced by BBC StoryWorks Commercial Productions for the Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

The series explores the concept and importance in a whole new way: the science behind both modern innovations and the ancient traditions that have preceded them, how it impacts every aspect of our lives, and the inspirational worldwide pioneers who seek to make wellness more accessible and inclusive. 

Until recently, virtually everything ‘wellness’ has been widely considered to be something largely reserved for the affluent; the vast majority of treatments related to wellness have typically been marketed (and therefore largely perceived) as being exclusive and costly. 

This innovative, inspired series of films takes a significantly different approach to exploring and representing the wellness movement – dramatically expanding on narrower perspectives, compelling viewers to ask themselves what true wellness really is, and exploring some of the science that underpins a range of ancient practices and modern-day innovations. 

In Pursuit of Wellness takes its viewers on a journey of discovery, introducing a collection of fascinating pioneers dedicated to pushing the boundaries of wellness, and the inspirational groups of people that actively engage in both ancient and modern practices to take care of their own wellness. 

The series shines an inspiring light on how the wellness practices that are at work surround us without us even knowing it; how simply being a human and expressing ourselves in a range of human ways and emotions can transform our overall health and wellbeing.

Simply by breathing, moving, laughing, music listening, dancing, sharing, giving, and being grateful, we can actively enhance our wellbeing as a happy byproduct. 

Wellness grounded in research and evidence 

The research and executive team at the GWI insisted on working closely with BBC StoryWorks’ producers to ensure that the series would be grounded in reputable and relevant research and evidence.

By tapping into its global network of highly reputable wellness leaders, the GWI was able, in unison with BBC StoryWorks, to create a series featuring both individuals and organisations taking the most creative, innovative and inclusive approaches to wellness. 

In Pursuit of Wellness premiered on 1st November 2022 at the Global Wellness Summit in Tel Aviv; it is expected to generate 80 million BBC.com impressions during its 12-month digital campaign, and reach tens of millions of people across the globe.

As this reach creates a vast expansion to the GWI’s reach and community, its mission of ‘empowering wellness worldwide’ will continue to gain momentum and improve the health and wellbeing of countless people across the world. 

Music for Neurodiversity

Music for Neurodiversity is a film produced for Myndstream by BBC StoryWorks Commercial Productions, and explores the impact of music on wellbeing within education, particularly with neurodivergent children, such as children with ASD. 

Neurodivergent children with ASD have variations in their structural brain development, which include those seen in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autistic spectrum disorder, spectrum disorders, and dyslexia.

The film focuses on a pilot study based in Ireland at the Junior Genius School. Launched on 1st November 2022 as part of the In Pursuit of Wellness series, Music for Neurodiversity features Professor Adam Ocklefield, a music psychologist and professor at London’s University of Roehampton, and Freddie Moross, MD of Myndstream. 

 

Music therapy at Junior Genius

The Junior Genius facility focuses on providing the highest possible level of care and education within a safe, warm and nurturing environment. 

Junior Genius prides itself on providing stimulating, educationally appropriate programs while creating a sense of belonging and acceptance. This approach is designed to facilitate a holistic development spanning each child’s physical, social, cognitive, emotional, moral and creative growth.

Included in the facilities approach are carefully embedded music interventions and improvisational music therapy to assist children with autism in their development.

Research shows music may improve social communication and general social functioning for children with autism, or anyone with autism spectrum disorders, while also acting as a therapeutic aid.

Further research has shone the light on the power of music for children with ASD:

‘Developing children with autism are more likely to play with another following a shared musical experience and joint musical interactions can enhance emotional empathy, prosociality and bonding in children. More recently, neuroimaging studies have shown that participating in musical activities engages a multimodal network of brain regions involved in hearing, movement, emotion, pleasure and memory, thus allowing transfer of music-related therapeutic effects to non-musical domains through structural and functional brain changes.’

Junior Genius supports outdoor play and indoor play, and children at the facility can enjoy stimulating programs, including music therapy, in both small and larger group settings.

Junior Genius recognizes the core value that play holds as a part of overall development. By following research that demonstrates the higher levels of achievement that children with ASD attain through play engagement, Junior Genius supports rich experiences in both indoor and outdoor play, embodying the words of Aristotle; ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.’ 

Myndstream and our mission

Myndstream believes in the power of music to meaningfully support both children and high functioning adolescents in their wellbeing.

Myndstream collaborates with an impressive network of outstanding musicians to create and curate music to best support both individuals and businesses. 

As part of the Cutting Edge Group, Myndstream has over 20 years of industry experience as the leading global full-service provider of music for television, advertising, film and gaming. 

Utilising the rigour of scientific research mixed with top musical ability, Myndstream’s focus is to create the highest-possible quality, music-led wellbeing programmes, enhancing the artistic process as it goes.

Its mission is to elevate the audio experience within business environments via its own platforms, as well as allowing consumers to access its music directly via the main streaming platforms. This includes creating playlists for educational centres, schools, and family centred music therapy to help both young adults and children with autism.

By building meaningful relationships with experts in the fields of sleep, music therapy, relaxation, education and a host of others, Myndstream sits at the intersection between science and art, creating music that has a range of positive outcomes.

Through committing to never-ending learning, continuous research and ongoing creation of bespoke solutions, Myndstream is at the forefront of music therapy innovation.

Myndstream Pilot Study 

The focus of the Music for Neurodiversity film centres around Myndstream’s pilot study.

In collaboration with Junior Genius, Myndstream sought to better understand how its music could help in educational environments. Insights included:

  • Is the music fundamentally working?
  • How can we better the music included in an educational environment?
  • In which particular scenarios could it really benefit the kids – neurodiverse or neurotypical?

Playlists were carefully curated to cater to the needs of simple versus complex music and tested across four distinct parts of the childrens’ day:

  • Individual focus: noise levels come down, helping to increase concentration
  • Quiet time: helping children to relax and regulate their emotions through some quiet downtime in a cosy area, often with the use of headphones
  • Sleep time: when it’s time for a nap, gentle sleep background music helps them to drift off peacefully (gentle and relaxing but not sad music)
  • Play time: more upbeat music to get the children feeling more energised and involved

 

How were Myndstream’s curated playlists received?

According to Anna Buckley, child care worker at Junior Genius, these playlists had a clear impact on all four phases, helping the children to stay focused, calm and relaxed, as well as more engaged during focus and play times;

They stay focused, it calms them, it relaxes them, and they tend to ask more questions,” she said. 

As Professor Ockelfield states in the film, music forms an integral part of our neural architecture. With humans first starting to make music around half a million years ago, and with language coming along some 300 thousand years later, it’s clear that music “transcends boundaries.”

Regarding the impact that music can have on individuals with autism spectrum disorder, Professor Ockelfield explains:

“Music is one way in which autistic children feel they can take control – it can be hard to have a sense of agency when you can’t talk very well, but by engaging in a musical game, a musical dialogue, suddenly they’re equals, and that’s really important.” 

He goes on to explain the important role that music can play in the life of those with autism spectrum disorders. Autistic children can face difficulties when receiving so many social functioning and behavioural instructions, as it can feel critical, but as Ockelfield states:

Music doesn’t criticise, it doesn’t tell them off; it just is.”

Definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder

As per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) used by qualified mental health professionals in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and neurodivergence such as ASD, the diagnostic criteria for Autism is:

Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts – deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, in nonverbal communication and in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships. 

The severity of autism is diagnosed using a childhood autism rating scale and depends upon the ‘severity of social communication impairments, and restricted patterns of behaviour.’ Level one indicates the requirement for support, level 2 requires substantial support, and level 3 requires very substantial support. 

For many autistic children, music therapy can greatly enhance their skills and understanding in both verbal and non verbal communication, and enhance their ability to focus, engage, self-regulate their emotions, enhance their social skills, and much more. 

Music and Autism Spectrum Disorder

The number of studies demonstrating effective outcomes through the implementation of music therapy is ever-growing.

Research tells us that the benefits of both individual and music therapy group intervention are wide-ranging, and specific to an individual’s unique needs. When it comes to the effects on a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the benefits of music therapy are, again, strongly backed by the evidence. 

Utilising music therapy for autistic children or adolescents or adults with autism spectrum disorder can result in improvements in areas such as:

  • communication skills
  • language ability
  • self-expression 
  • emotional regulation
  • cognitive development
  • social development
  • creativity 
  • self-esteem and empowerment

A 2018 study published by the National Library of Medicine (NIH) and Translational Psychiatry also demonstrates a clear link between ‘music intervention’ and improved social interaction and communication skills in young adults and children with autism spectrum disorder. 

The randomised control study demonstrates that – relative to non-music behavioural intervention – a course of 8-12 weeks of music intervention can improve social and communication skills (as reported by parents), Family Quality of Life (FQoL), and the intrinsic brain connectivity of (school-age) children with autism spectrum disorder. This research clearly supports the therapeutic use of music therapy sessions for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, and particularly those of school age. 

Music therapy benefits 

Music therapy is a popular and well-established technique for assisting individuals to improve their ability to function. 

Both children and adults on the autism spectrum can experience a wide range of emotional processing and cognitive function challenges, and musical interaction can greatly assist in lowering anxiety, building social communication skills (both in spoken words and non-verbal cues) and improving feelings of agency and self-worth. 

Music therapists often work with autistic people to help improve a range of skills. Areas of improvement commonly reported include communication and social skills, cognition, behaviour, sensory issues, motor skills, and feelings of self-reliance. Music therapists take the time to find the specific musical preferences, experiences and styles that the individual responds well to, helping to build trust, reduce anxiety and connect through music within a therapeutic relationship.

A meta-study focused on music as a therapeutic intervention for autism, the benefits are considerable, including (but not limited to):

  • appropriate social engagement and behaviour
  • increased gesturing, vocalisation and verbalisation
  • improved vocabulary comprehension
  • increased attention and focus
  • improved communication and social skills
  • reduced anxiety
  • enhanced coordination
  • improved self-care skills

Music, autism and emotion 

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder are often particularly responsive to music, and given its engaging and motivating nature, music can be used to reinforce desired motivations and responses.

Studies also show that music therapy outcomes can also help people with sensory aversions to particular sounds to regulate their feelings and responses to sound sensitivities and other differences in auditory processing. 

People with autism can struggle to regulate their emotions, and this can be further hampered by sensory overload. Finding tracks of music that soothe sensory aversions and effectively drown out background noise that may otherwise be hard for an autistic person to process can help them to regulate their emotions more effectively and reduce anxiety. 

One of the primary indications of ASD is altered intrinsic brain connectivity, with both under-connectivity and over-connectivity being reported. Over-connectivity of sensory-related networks, and the under-connectivity of cortico-subcortical and fronto-temporal networks are particular areas of music intervention treatment as they are so closely linked to the social and verbal communication difficulties common to many people on the autism spectrum. 

Furthermore, the positive impact that music can have on enhancing social skills in children has been demonstrated on a broad level. Studies have found that children are more likely to connect and play with other typically developing peers after sharing a musical experience, and that such shared musical interactions and joint rhythmic movement can promote social engagement, enhanced prosociality, empathy and bonding in developing children.

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