Dancing Towards Wellness: How Dance Therapy Benefits Children with Autism

Dance has long been celebrated for its power to allow participants to express emotions, tell stories, and foster connections—along with plenty of exercise. Beyond its artistic merits, recent studies highlight its therapeutic potential, particularly for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Dance therapy, a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes non-verbal expression through movement, has emerged as a promising intervention for enhancing the physical and mental well-being of children with ASD.

Promising Research: A Look into Dance Therapy’s Impact

In an investigation titled, “A Dance Movement Psychotherapy Intervention for the Wellbeing of Children With an Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Intervention Study” published in Frontiers in Psychology1, researchers explored the effects of Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) on children with ASD. Their intervention, implemented in special educational needs schools, revealed significant improvements in social communication and emotional well-being among children who underwent DMP sessions. According to the researchers, “The results show that the DMP intervention was having a clinically and statistically significant effect on the key outcome measures used in the study with stronger effects on social and communication aspects.”

Dance therapy showed particular promise in decreasing depression and anxiety, as well as increasing quality of life and interpersonal and cognitive skills, according to a study titled, “Effects of Dance Movement Therapy and Dance on Health Related Psychological Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis Update, published in Frontiers in Psychology2. The researchers noted, “In sum, we obtained encouraging results, which indicated that DMT and dance have positive effects on various health-related outcomes.”

Unlocking the Benefits of Dance Therapy

One key aspect of dance therapy’s effectiveness lies in its attribute of addressing the unique strengths and struggles of children with ASD. By providing a non-verbal mode of expression, dance therapy enables children to communicate and connect with others in ways that traditional therapies might not facilitate. As stated in the “A Dance Movement Psychotherapy Intervention…” study, “Regardless of the heterogenous spectrum of abilities presented by children with ASD, DMP has been successful to further social and communication aspects of the children within a short period.” By following the child’s lead and adapting to their interests and energy levels, dance therapy fosters a child-centered approach that encourages autonomy and self-expression.

Conclusion

Dance therapy holds promise as a holistic intervention for children with ASD. Through its emphasis on non-verbal expression, embodied engagement, and child-centered principles, dance therapy offers a pathway towards improved social communication, emotional regulation, and overall well-being. As research continues to reveal, dance therapy is tool that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of children with ASD, unlocking their potential for creativity, connection, growth, and fitness.

1 Aithal S, Karkou V, Makris S, Karaminis T and Powell J (2021) “A Dance Movement Psychotherapy Intervention for the Wellbeing of Children With an Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Intervention Study.” Frontiers Psychology 12:588418. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.588418
Published: 19 July 2021.2 Koch SC, Riege RFF, Tisborn K, Biondo J, Martin L and Beelmann A (2019) “Effects of Dance Movement Therapy and Dance on Health-Related Psychological Outcomes. A Meta-Analysis Update.” Frontiers Psychology 10:1806. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01806
Published: 20 August 2019.

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