Exploring Autism and Music Taste (Genre Preferences)

How Autism Shapes Musical Preferences

Kristi Montgomery
Updated February 15, 2023

Sometimes the music taste of our children leaves us scratching our heads.

If our child is autistic, we may struggle to learn what genre of music they prefer. However, music for those on the autism spectrum can open doors to communication and help caregivers gauge emotion and manage behavior.

Discover Music preferences with music therapy

Believe it or not, some people don’t like music. For music enthusiasts, that fact can be tough to comprehend. 

Despite the stereotypical claim that people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder enjoy music, some on the spectrum react to music as they would any other disturbing noise.

Parents who don’t like music may not know their child’s music taste. Think about it. If you aren’t fond of Brussels sprouts, you aren’t likely to present them to your child. 

The same is true of music. Those who aren’t exposed may not develop a taste for it.

In some cases, that is where music therapy can be a benefit. 

  • A trained music therapist can introduce the autistic person to music, allowing them to develop an interest. 
  • Within the structured practice of music therapy, the child can be exposed to different genres of music to learn which, if any, they prefer.
  • A child is often led in making music within a structured music therapy session. 
  • The therapist will use one or several musical toys or instruments to introduce the child to make different kinds of music. 

Following up with this practice at home allows the child to develop musical skills and unique musical tastes.

Note: Music therapy shouldn’t be regarded as a treatment plan. Instead, parents should consider it a tool that helps them discover their child’s musical tastes. 

If a parent feels their child benefits from music therapy and other things they are doing, then they should pursue this course. However, parents shouldn’t feel obligated to follow this course if their child dislikes music or if the therapy becomes stressful for their child.

Factors affecting music taste in autistic individuals

Since communication is often an issue with autistic children, it can be challenging to determine what genre of music they prefer. However, some factors can play a role in influencing musical taste.

According to a study co-authored by Kevin Jamey, Nicholas E.V. Foster, Krista L. Hyde, and Simone Dalla Bella, some of those factors include:

  • The person’s verbal ability
  • The person’s spatial reasoning
  • The person’s symptom severity
  • The person’s age

These factors were particularly influential when viewed in terms of understanding the music or using music for social interaction. 

The best predictor of genre preference was the severity of the autistic person’s symptoms. Those with higher severity were less likely to choose classical music.

Autistic and Neurotypical children share similar tastes

Exposure to music has been shown to improve verbal and nonverbal communication skills in autistic children, and studies also indicate that music helps improve overall cognitive awareness. 

That doesn’t tell us whether autistic children prefer different music than other children, though. The brain activity in autistic and neurotypical children is remarkably similar when the children are exposed to music.

  • Most formal studies of music and the autistic brain indicate that preference is given to pleasant music that emphasizes melody and harmony. 
  • Discordant, dissonant pieces were less pleasing to children of any ability level. 
  • Rhythmic pieces tended to stimulate the thalamus (the center for control of voluntary movement) within the brain.

Mendability found through their studies that children who were severely autistic showed the same musical preferences as neurotypical children. Children of all abilities prefer pleasant, harmonious, and melodic music.

Music taste can bridge a social gap

Autistic people are often awkward at best in social situations. Finding similar music preferences can bridge the gaps between these individuals and their peers. 

Usually, if they enjoy listening to music, people with autism gravitate to the same sounds that their age mates enjoy.

If the child is exposed predominantly to country music in their home and social interactions, they will likely gravitate to that genre. Those with peers who constantly listen to hip-hop or rap may gravitate to that specific genre. 

However, it isn’t unusual for autistic individuals to have diverse musical tastes based on their emotions at the time.

  • When seeking stimulus, they may gravitate to a more upbeat sound.
  • Someone who needs to feel calmer or needs to feel happy will likely seek music that is lyrical and beautiful.

Whether they can communicate verbally or not, autistic people can indicate the kind of music they enjoy with their facial expressions, behavior, and overall body language.

Music taste is subjective and individual

Regardless of diagnosis, people of any ability have individual likes and dislikes. Musical preference is no exception to that. 

Autistic individuals, like everyone else, choose their music based on the sounds they like. Some autistic people don’t like music; perhaps it just sounds like noise.


  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferpalumbo/2022/08/26/why-music-is-positive-for-autistic-individuals
  • https://www.epiphanyasd.com/2017/08/music-for-autism-acquired-taste.html
  • https://www.autismhorizon.com/musical-toys-for-autistic-child/
  • https://www.neuromusic.ca/poster-2020/musical-genre-preferences-in-autism-spectrum-disorder
  • https://www.mendability.com/autism-therapy/sensory-processing/good-music-improves-speech-therapy-for-people-with-autism-and-aspergers/

Written by Kristi Montgomery

Kristi Montgomery

Kristi is from the middle of nowhere in Alabama where she is a dedicated wife, mom to 6, and Mimi to 6, and she loves taking care of her family. Kristi has family and friends who live their lives on the autism spectrum, and she finds them to be some of the most interesting people she knows. She embraces the challenge of communicating with them whole-heartedly and has made it a lifelong goal to learn as much as possible about autism and share that information with others.