Effect of a combined dance/movement and music therapy on young adults diagnosed with severe autism

Autism spectrum disorder varies in severity and in manifestation of symptoms for each diagnosed individual.  For persons with more severe autism diagnoses, symptoms constitute a significant disruption to quality of life.  

A variety of therapies are used to treat symptoms of ASD, including creative arts therapies such as dance therapy and music therapy.  A 2013 study performed in Spain examined the effectiveness of these two therapies in combination for adults diagnosed with severe ASD.  The average age of participants was 25 years. Researchers examined the results from the Revised Clinical Scale for the Evaluation of Autistic Behavior (ECA-R) for an experimental group and a control group.

Participants in the experimental group received 36 one-hour sessions carried out over the course of 17 weeks.  A certified dance therapist, and a certified music therapist performed the sessions. Each session included dance, instrumental practice, singing, and observation/mimicking of movement.  All participants continued to participate in their regular therapies and receive pharmacological treatments during the experimental period.

Results indicated improvement in several areas for the subjects when compared to the control group, including behavior regulation.  Participants showed a greater capacity to modulate self-adaptive behaviors, avoid extreme mood swings and other problematic behaviors such as aggressive rejection of others, or possessive attachment to others.  Participants also showed improved ability to share the emotions of others, and to imitate gestures and behaviors.

The researchers encourage others to explore combinations of music therapy and dance and movement therapy in order to address symptoms of ASD, especially for behavior regulation and emotional development.

By Amber Bruns, MT-BC

Mateos-Moreno, D., & Atencia-Dona, L. (2013). Effect of a combined dance/movement and music therapy on young adults diagnosed with severe autism. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 40, 465-472. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2013.09.004