Research indicates that music therapy can improve social skills in children with autism, however the researchers felt that more information was needed on the use of music therapy interventions to determine the impact of group music therapy. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of a music therapy group intervention on eye gaze, joint attention, and initiation of communication in children with ASD. These three behaviors were chosen to be able to measure specific responses that fall into the category of “social behaviors.”
Social skills demand the interplay of perceiving multiple sources of sensory stimuli, placing context to understand the intentions of others, formulating a response, and then carrying through with the response. Disruption in neural organization could have an impact on one, if not all, of these elements. Furthermore, current research indicates that social skill needs do not naturally resolve in people with autism. Music therapy experiences have the potential to increase engagement for learning. This is due to the inherent structure of music that can help children with autism to organize, predict, and respond to their environment, meanwhile offering opportunities for creativity.
This study was conducted with 17 children, ages 6 to 9, with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Participants were randomly assigned to the music therapy group (MTG) or the no-music social skills group (SSG). They participated in ten 50-minute group sessions over 5 weeks, and all sessions targeted social skills. Researchers used the Social Responsiveness Scale, the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist, and video analysis of sessions to evaluate changes in social behavior.
The results of the study show significant differences between the two groups for joint attention with peers and eye gaze toward persons, with greater gains in the MTG group. There was no significant differences between groups for initiation of communication. The researchers concluded that these results support further research on the use of music therapy group interventions for social skills in children with ASD. These statistical results demonstrate initial support for the use of music therapy social groups to develop joint attention.
by Blythe LaGasse, PhD, MT-BC