Survival depends on the maintenance, within very narrow limits, of physiologic variables critical to life, leading to a condition known as homeostasis.
Homeostasis is achieved by cascading networks of sophisticated feedback/feedforward control systems that operate in accordance with prescribed reference set points. In diagnosed populations (such as autistic),these set-points often deviate from those that optimize physiologic performance. Combined with misinterpretation of sensory information, these deviant set-points act to maintain the body in a perpetual survival mode that derives from the fear response. When this is the case, clinicians prescribe therapy in an attempt to re-set the reference control quantities to more desirable values through the process of functional adaptation.
Recent research and clinical applications have verified that music therapy is one particularly effective clinical intervention that accomplishes this goal. Its effectiveness derives from its ability to function through sub-cortical, non-cognitive pathways that are indigenous to fundamental physiological response mechanisms. The instinct to track music is innate; it parallels and reflects the human condition. Having been invented by humans to express emotion, music speaks the language of the body through its six basic elements: rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, timbre, and form.
This paper develops a paradigm describing how and why these music elements can be utilized, in combination or individually, as a medical intervention to redirect fear responses and specifically target sensory integration dysfunction. Applied clinically as a continuous disturbance to malfunctioning feedback-control pathways, music therapy can thus succeed in stimulating functional adaptation, driving the physiologic system towards more optimal responses to sensory inputs.