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Music Therapy to Help Socialize Children With Autism
May 12, 2018

Johanna Barrett
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 2 min.

Relational factors in music therapy may contribute to a favorable outcome of treatment for kids with autism.

It might not surprise that good relationships produce good results, as meaningful relational experiences are critical to us in our daily life. However, the growth of a relationship with a child with autism might be disrupted due to the level of symptoms interfering with all the normal development of psychological and social skills.

In a new study, researchers in GAMUT, Uni Research Health and University of Bergen, could show that the quality of the therapeutic relationship predicts generalized changes in social abilities in children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition (ASC).

This predictor study comprised 48 kids between 7 and 4 years who received improvisational music therapy each week over a span of 5 months. Outcomes associated with the child’s social abilities were measured before and after therapy. Based on session videos the researchers assessed the relationship between the child and the therapist.

Findings of the study reveal a substantial symptom reduction, in case a connection was developed in which the therapist was mentally and musically attuned to the child’s expressions. Especially an improvement of language and communication skills was connected with the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

Attunement as mechanism of change

Attunement procedures between people are particularly described for early interactions between infants and their caregivers. It was indicated that the physician’s capacity to synchronize and socialize to the infant’s movements, rhythms, and affects impacts attachment and the development of social understanding. Within these attuned musical exchanges, the infant experiences being experienced and understood emotionally.

- In music therapy with children with disabilities, therapists attempt to move principles from early interaction procedures by creating music that’s specifically tailored to the child’s sounds, movements, postures, and affect. This must allow for moments of synchronization and attunement, Karin Mössler at Uni Research describes. Mössler is the principal investigator of this study.

Children with childhood autism

Focusing on cognitive and musical attunement may be particularly critical for kids with low functioning childhood autism since it may be particularly effective when working with sensory processing, affect regulation, or deviations related to the child’s moves all of that may be crucially influenced in these kids. Even although the key outcomes of a related research exploring the effects of music therapy with children with disabilities, don’t demonstrate that music therapy works better than other treatments, subgroup analysis identified that children with childhood disabilities or coexisting intellectual disability improve to a greater extend from music treatment compared to kids with a different autism diagnosis.

Stereotypical behaviour as resource

In this sense, particular attention ought to be given to intervention approaches fostering relationship through musical and emotional attunement. These strategies should assist therapists but also parents of kids with ASC to handle the child’s symptom level by, for instance, with its repetitive or stereotype motions and affective expressions as a source and starting point for attunement.

Journal Reference:

Karin Mössler, Christian Gold, Jörg Aßmus, Karin Schumacher, Claudine Calvet, Silke Reimer, Gun Iversen, Wolfgang Schmid.

The Therapeutic Relationship as Predictor of Change in Music Therapy with Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2017; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-017-3306-y


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