One characteristic of children with autism is a deficit in social and communication skills, including “difficulty reciprocating social interactions, problems establishing and maintaining relationships, and abnormal communication behavior.” These skills are vital for a person with autism in developing relationships, independence, and having vocations. The study conducted by Dr. LaGasse of Colorado State University follows 17 participants’ ages 6 to 9 in a 10 session social group study where group A receives social skills only, and group B receives Music Therapy. The study had a specific focus on eye gaze, joint attention, and communication.
Interventions in both the social skills group and the music therapy group included 2 sensory activities, one immediately after the welcome, and one as the fourth activity. The third and fifth activities of each session were group interaction and cooperative play activities, ending with goodbye. The activities had to meet the criteria of: joint attention to objects in experience and peers, response to communication bids from others, initiation of communication with peers, and eye gaze toward others in group.
Parents were asked to assess their children using different standardized methods throughout treatment, while therapists in both the social skills group and music therapy group tracked data within the session. At the conclusion of the study, it was found that the music therapy group had greater improvements in all three domains and a higher rate of generalized skill to everyday life than the social skills group.
This study had a high attrition rate and relied heavily on parent-evaluations. Many parents failed to give consistent feed-back and hurt the overall findings. I believe if other measures had been taken to record data, the research would be more strongly in favor of music therapy group interventions. We have the opportunity to see this often in performing arts groups, instrument play classes, and more where children with autism create musical products together. Music is often a comfortable stimulus for children with autism as society often surrounds them with its presence. The ability to play music within a group of their peers can also allow them an avenue of expression through an instrument that might otherwise feel too exposed. Music is so engaging and fun to participate in that you might just forget you’re practicing social skills and instead making creative musical experiences with your friends.
Lagasse, A. B. (2014). Effects of a Music Therapy Group Intervention on Enhancing Social Skills in Children with Autism. Journal of Music Therapy, 51(3), 250-275. doi:10.1093/jmt/thu012
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