Background Music & Autism

I know many people who can work while music is playing or just enjoy having music on in the background when they are at home, in the car or working.  When I use to teach school, the teachers would turn on their radios while they worked on lesson plans.  Because I was the music teacher, you would think I would do the same thing.  Actually, I sat in silence in my classroom and only turned on music if I wanted to listen to a song briefly that I wanted to use for the next week.  I could think better if I had silence because my ears needed a break from music.  Friends have told me they can think clearer or work faster if they have music playing.  To this day, I do not understand that.  As I write this post, I am hoping that it will be quiet while I finish working.

What happens when music is on in a social setting?  I know many of us have gone to parties, restaurants, and other places and hear music playing.  Music is playing all the time in the dentist office, grocery store and other places.  How do we react?  Do we socialize more; have a good time because the music might spur conversation?

Interestingly enough, researchers wanted to know the effects background music on young children with autism and their social behavior.  In the past, research studies show children with autism react to music and music therapy to increase engagement, speech and teach appropriate social behaviors.  This study used five males between the ages of four and five to conduct and alternated the type of music played while the children played at the beginning of their school day.  The study lasted 28 weeks total and with a coin toss, the day started with music or without.  The three types of music used were children songs, consisting of known songs sung in the classroom, TV theme show music or music from a movie, reggae or classical music, specifically Mozart’s “Divertimento No. 15 in Bb major”.  The amount of music or the amount of no music was the same, 15 minutes.  The researchers wanted to know if the children with autism made more utterances or sounds or did they engage with others while the music played.  They also wanted to know if the type of music made any difference on how the children reacted during the structured play.

The results showed that neither the music playing nor the type of music made any significant difference in the number of sounds or levels of engagement made by the children.  The researchers realized that the selection of music could have played a factor in the results, since previous research showed positive effects of music in the classroom.  While this single study did not show significant results, more research will clarify how children and others on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) respond to music.

Preis, J., Amon, R., Robinette, D., Rozegar, A., (2016).  Does music matter? The effects of background music on verbal expression and engagement in children with autism spectrum disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 34(1), 106-115.

Stephanie H. Morris

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapy Fellow