How are Music Therapists working with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Most consider the survey as one of the best ways to determine what trends are developing and how professionals deal with change.  Knowing that the public, professionals and families focus much attention on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers asked what clinical practices and training needs exist for music therapists working with this specific population.  Most recently, media releases say that 1 in 88 individuals (different statistics for males versus females) receive a diagnosis of ASD.  Kern, Rivera, Chandler and Humpal (2013) took the opportunity to ask 328 professional music therapists from the American Music Therapy Association questions regarding their involvement in working with individuals diagnosed with this disorder.  Researchers needed to find out how many worked with individuals with ASD, but wanted them to answer questions about assessment, clinical goals, approaches and techniques used to treat these individuals.  Examining these key areas helps “evaluate the status of music therapy practices…, the implementation of national ASD standards and guidelines, the awareness of recent developments and training needs of music therapists” (p. 274).

The results showed more music therapists are working with individuals diagnosed with ASD who serve these clients in their home and in community settings.  The researchers stated that the music therapists “processes align with recommended practices for ASD and incorporate several of the recognized evidence-based practices” (p. 274-275).   This means that areas such as communication, motor, academic, emotional and social skills are just some of the goal areas for these individuals.  Some therapists are using a behavioral approach whereas others maybe using Neurologic Music Therapy in their treatment practices.  Techniques within these approaches may include songwriting, singing and instrument playing or movement and dance.

Other sections of the survey focused on training (inside or outside the field of music therapy), the therapists’ knowledge of ASD and developments in the diagnosis and treatment of those with ASD.  Results showed that the therapists’ lacked knowledge of some of the most recent practices such as inclusion.  

Compared to older studies, this survey showed an increase in music therapists treating individuals with ASD spanning various ages and environments.  However, as with most disciplines, keeping up with current practice and diagnostic information is challenging.  For me, this conclusion further validates the need for training to stay current with acceptable and evidence based practices to serve my clientele in the best possible way.

Kern, P., Rivera, N. R., Chandler, A., Humpal, M. (2013).  Music therapy services for individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A survey of clinical practices and training needs.  Journal of Music Therapy, 50(4), 274-303.

Stephanie H. Morris

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapist