Parents and Young Children with Disabilities: The Effects of a Home-Based Music Therapy Program on Parent-Child Interactions

The author of this study noted that there is past research that supports the idea that a responsive parenting style and synchronous parent-child interactions have a positive effect on child development in language, cognitive, and social-emotional areas. Responsive parenting is defined as “the ways parents respond to their children’s needs and signals with sensitivity, warmth, and acceptance.” The parent’s ability to accurately recognize, understand, and interpret their child’s communication through behavior or verbal communication is one of the key factors involved in this successful type of parent-child relationship.

However, interactions between parents and children with disabilities or developmental delays are often more challenging because of symptoms or characteristics associated with a particular diagnosis. For instance, children with autism usually display fewer attempts to initiate or respond to joint attention requests (pointing at something with a finger so someone else can share in an experience) than children without disabilities.

This research study had three goals. The researcher sought to examine the effects of home-based music therapy on 1) parents’ positive physical and verbal responses toward their child, 2) children’s positive physical and verbal initiations toward their parent, and 3) parent-child synchrony during free play. In order to participate in the study, parents had to have at least one child between the ages of one and three, and that child must have a diagnosed disability or have previously received early intervention services.

Participants included 26 parent-child pairs, and the researcher conducted six in-home music therapy sessions over 6 weeks. Each session last 40 minutes, with the first and last 5 minutes set aside for going over educational materials or answering questions. Parents were also given a kit that included a CD with recordings of songs used in sessions, a responsive teaching strategy handout, song lyrics, and a few instruments.

Participants were given a pre- and post-test of ten minutes of free play with their children, which was videotaped and analyzed by the researcher. Comparison of the pre- and post-test scores on parent responses, child initiation, and synchronous behaviors (sharing same focus of attention, parent following the child’s lead and responding promptly, mutual exchanges between parent and child) showed that the in-home music program improved all three observed behaviors. Parents also incorporated music from the program into their daily routine (bedtime, mealtime, playtime, transportation).

The results of this study indicate that music is effective in facilitating parent-child interactions in terms of parental responsiveness and child-initiated communication, as well as promoting parent-child synchrony and parenting skills. Parent-child pairs also expanded their repertoire of play activities, and parents learned how to use music for functional purposes.

Yang, Y. (Dec., 2015). Parents and Young Children with Disabilities: The Effects of a Home-Based Music Therapy Program on Parent-Child Interactions. Journal of Music Therapy, 53 (5), 27-54.


By Elyse Suhay, MT-BC