Meta-analysis for music & movement with children with ASD

According to Webster’s online dictionary meta-analysis is a systematic review of the literature, which “involves pooling the data and using the pooled data to test the effectiveness of the results” (  Researchers use this device to evaluate what research has been done on a particular subject or research question to ask if what is available helps answer the question or gives sufficient results to come to a conclusion.  Research on the subject of Autism Spectrum Disorders and the therapies that seek to help those with ASD are vast.  Srinivasan and Bhat (2013) wanted to discover what research explored music and movement therapies for children with ASD.  They found that so much literature exists regarding communication and social deficits, but found little on music and movement.

They highlighted research in Table 1 they used to evaluate what music therapy studies had examined children with ASD dating back as far as 1994 through 2011.  They also showed in Figure 1 the “Direct and indirect influences of musical experiences/therapies on the various domains of development” (p. 3).  The section discussing music and movement detailed how music making (clapping, marching and playing instruments) can enhance gross motor development and playing specific musical instruments (piano, drums, guitar) can promote fine motor skills.  They stated that they were unable to locate studies examining music and movement with children with ASD.

They then looked at the music education literature to see what studies had been performed on typically developing children.  I was surprised to see that when they highlighted some educational approaches that focus on movement, they left out the Orff-Schulwerk method altogether.  Many music educators know that Dalcroze and Kodaly use movement, but I was surprised that these researchers missed listing the Orff method.  It involves singing, movement, and instrument playing.

Other methods mentioned are familiar to many of us who work with children and adults with ASD.  TEACHH (Teaching and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children), ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and PECS (Picture Exchange Communication Systems) all focus on communication and social skills primarily.  Specific music interventions used are AMMT (Auditory Motor Mapping Training) and MIT (Melodic Intonation Training), which are both Neurologic Music Therapy techniques.  Other musical interventions include rhythmic training and improvisational music therapy.  The researchers found that all of these techniques and therapies focus on communication and social interaction.

The researchers challenged us (I assume music therapists as well as other researchers) to develop”multisystem” music interventions to address not only the social and communication deficits of children with ASD, but also the gross and fine motor challenges; a multisystem approach considered comprehensive.  Srinivasan and Bhat (2013) stated “We believe that novel, embodied rhythm-based, multisystem interventions grounded in singing, music-making, joint-attention, and social synchrony [things happening at the same time] can be used to eliminate the core social communication deficits and perceptuo-motor and behavioral comorbidities of children with ASDs” (p. 11).  In this article, they shared that they were in fact working on an 8-week pilot study and plan to publish their results.  I look forward to reading about their findings.

Srinivasan, S. M., and Bhat, A. N. (2013).  A review of “music and movement” therapies for children with autism: Embodied interventions for multisystem development.  Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7, pp. 1-11.

Stephanie Morris

Stephanie H. Morris, MM, MT-BC

Neurologic Music Therapist