Join Us
Find Banner

Follow AMTA
on Social Media

Facebook  Twitter  instagram_2016_icon   youtube   LinkedInLogo

Annotated Bibliography of Articles on Music Therapy and ASD


Annotated Bibliography of Articles from the Journals of the American Music Therapy Association that Pertain to Music Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder 2000 – 2015

Articles described herein reflect topics that deal with music therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder or that met the search criteria for including the words autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD in their content.

Journal of Music Therapy:

Brown, L. & Jellison, J. (2012). Music Research with Children and Youth with Disabilities and Typically Developing Peers: A Systematic Review.  Journal of Music Therapy 49(3), 335-364.

This study identifies and systematically reviews music research with children and youth published in peer reviewed journals for the years 1999 through 2009, focusing on participant characteristics, research purposes, methodologies, and findings and the presence of ideas from special education policies, and practices.

*Brownell, M. (2002). Musically adapted social stories to modify behaviors in students with autism: Four case studies. Journal of Music Therapy, 39(2), 117-144.

This single case experimental design study evaluated the effect of using musical social stories with four first and second graders with ASD to modify targeted behaviors. The behaviors were selected by each child’s classroom teacher and were those most interfering with the child’s successful social or academic development (e.g., dealing with echolalia, following directions, and using a quiet voice). The musical-social story condition was equally effective to reading of social stories in 3 of 4 cases, and significantly more effective in one of the cases.

Chase, K. (2004). Music Therapy Assessment for Children with Developmental Disabilities: A Survey Study. Journal of Music Therapy 41(1), 28-54.

This survey of music therapists working with children with developmental disabilities determined that the most frequently assessed major skill areas were: Motor (95%), Communication (83%), Social (79%), Cognitive (64%), and Music (35%). Of the 36% of respondents who enclosed an actual assessment form with their survey, 100% required data collection through behavior observation. The following positive aspects of their forms were noted: Thorough (34%), Individualized (26%), and Easy to Use (26%), and the following negative aspects of their forms were reported: Subjective (28%), Limiting (26%), and Time Consuming (22%). The 3 most commonly desired features of a standardized assessment were the following: Easy to Use (23%), Comprehensive (19%), and Adaptable (13%).

*Gadberry, A. (2011). A survey of the use of aided augmentative and alternative communication during music therapy sessions with persons with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 48(1), 74-89.

A cross-sectional survey study with 187 certified music therapists who work with clients with ASD in the USA revealed that 14.6% used aided Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) with their clients who utilized them outside of music therapy. Picture schedules were the most commonly employed. Furthermore, 40% of music therapists report having been trained in the use of AAC.

Geretsegger, M., Holck, U., Carpente, J., Elefant, C., Kim,  J. & Gold, C. (2015). Common Characteristics of Improvisational Approaches in Music Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Developing Treatment Guidelines. Journal of Music Therapy, 52(2), 258-281.

This study summarized an international consensus of selected international music therapists pertaining to core principles of improvisational music therapy (IMP) for children with ASD. Authors concluded that facilitating musical and emotional attunement, musically scaffolding the flow of interaction, and tapping into the shared history of musical interaction between child and therapist may be utilized in diverse theoretical models.

Gooding, L. (2011).The Effect of a Music Therapy Social Skills Training Program on Improving Social Competence in Children and Adolescents with Social Skills Deficits,  Journal of Music Therapy 48(4), 440 – 462.

The author conducted three separate studies in school, residential and after-school care settings to test the effectiveness of a music therapy-based social skills intervention program on improving social competence in 45 children and adolescents aged 6–17 years with social skills deficits. Significant improvements in social functioning were found in (a) school participant pre and post self-ratings, (b) researcher pre and post ratings of school participants, (c) case manager's pre and post treatment ratings for the residential participants, (d) after-school care participants' pre and post self-ratings, and (e) behavioral observations at all three settings.

Kalas, A. (2012). Joint Attention Responses of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to Simple versus Complex Music. Journal of Music Therapy 49(4), 430-452.

The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of simple versus complex music on joint attention of thirty children with ASD. Results indicated that the effect of simple versus complex music was dependent on functioning level (i.e., the Simple Music Condition was more effective in eliciting Responses to Joint Attention [RJA] for children diagnosed with severe ASD and the Complex Music Condition was more effective in eliciting RJA for children diagnosed with mild/moderate ASD).

*Kaplan, R. S., & Steele, A. L. (2005). An analysis of music therapy program goals and outcomes for clients with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. Journal of Music Therapy, 42(1), 2-19. 

This program evaluation report tracked data pertaining to music therapy service delivery in a community-based music school over two program years for 40 clients with ASD ranging in age from 2-49 years. Areas examined and information tracked about each (listed in rank order herein) included music therapy interventions  (interactive instrument playing, musical instrument instruction, interactive singing, and making instrument or song choices), session types (individual was most often conducted), formats most frequently used (activity-based, lesson-based, client-led/shadow, ensemble), goals most frequently addressed (language/communications skills followed by behavioral/psychosocial skills), assessed level of difficulty of clients and their situations (levels of difficulty did not seem to affect attainment of objectives), and generalization of skills to other settings (positive generalization to non-music areas).

Katagiri, J. (2009). The Effect of Background Music and Song Texts on the Emotional Understanding of Children with Autism. Journal of Music Therapy 46(1), 15-31.

This study examined the effect of background music and song texts to teach emotional understanding of happiness, sadness, anger, and fear to 12 students in Japan (mean age 11.5 years) who had a primary diagnosis of autism. The treatment consisted of the four conditions: (a) no purposeful teaching of the selected emotion, (b) teaching the selected emotion using verbal instructions alone, (c) teaching the selected emotion by verbal instructions with background music representing the emotion, and (d) teaching the selected emotion by singing composed songs about the emotion. While all participants improved in their understanding of the four selected emotions, background music was significantly more effective than the other three conditions in improving participants' emotional understanding.

*Kern, P., & Aldridge, D. (2006). Using embedded music therapy interventions to support outdoor play of young children with autism in an inclusive community-based child care program.  Journal of Music Therapy, 43(4), 270-294.

This multiple baseline design study, conducted with four boys with ASD, ages 3 through 4 with ASD, sought to determine if embedded music therapy interventions can improve children’s peer interaction on a community-based inclusive playground. While the musical adaptation of the playground itself did not significantly improve social interactions of children with ASD, it did facilitate their play by attracting them to the sound source. Playground songs composed by the music, collaborative consultation with teachers, and peer-mediated strategies resulted in successful increased peer interactions and meaningful play on the playground.

Kern, P., Rivera, N., 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.

This national cross-sectional survey study (N = 328) of professional members of AMTA members working with individuals with ASD sought to evaluate the status of music therapy practices for serving clients with ASD, the implementation of national ASD standards and guidelines, the awareness of recent developments, and training needs of music therapists. Findings suggest music therapy practices and services for individuals with ASD now reflect a slightly higher percentage of caseload, a broader age range of clients, and a trend to serve clients in home and community settings. While most therapeutic processes align with recommended practices for ASD and incorporate several of the recognized evidence-based practices, inclusion practices and the latest developments in the field of ASD are less understood. Accessibility to advanced online training and improved information dissemination to stay current with the rapidly changing aspects pertinent to this population were needs most often cited.

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.

This study examined the effects of a music therapy group intervention on eye gaze, joint attention, and communication in seventeen children with ASD, ages 6 to 9. Children were randomly assigned to the music therapy group (MTG) or the no-music social skills group (SSG).  Participants in the MTG demonstrated significantly greater gains in eye gaze to persons and joint attention between peers, but there were no significant differences for initiation of communication, response to communication, or social withdraw/behaviors.

*Lim, H. A. & Draper, E. (2011). The effects of music therapy incorporated with Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior Approach for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 48(4), 532-550.

In this within subjects experimental design study, twenty-two children with ASD, between the ages of 3 and 5, took part in a comparison of developmental speech-language training, using an Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior (ABA VB) approach and music incorporated with this method. A single group intervention with 3 training conditions and 4 verbal operant conditions was utilized. Results showed that both music and speech training are effective in ABA VB training, with music being more useful in areas of echoic production.

*Lim, H. A. (2010). Effect of “Developmental Speech and Language Training Through Music” on speech production in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 47(1), 2-26.

Fifty children between the ages of 3 and 5 took part in this experimental design study that compared the use of music training, speech training and no-training to aid verbal production with young children with ASD. Music training was given to the children via a music video that contained songs and pictures of targeted words, using a music therapy developmental speech and language training through music technique. Results of pre- and post-testing indicated that both music and speech training are significantly effective for improving acquisition of functional vocabulary words and speech production in young children with ASD. Low functioning participants in particular showed a greater improvement after the music training as compared with speech training. Children with ASD may gain important linguistic information by perceiving patterns embedded in musical stimuli.

Pasiali, V. (2012). Supporting Parent-Child Interactions: Music Therapy as an Intervention for Promoting Mutually Responsive Orientation. Journal of Music Therapy 49(3), 303-334.

This study investigated mutually responsive orientation (MRO) behaviors during music therapy with young children (aged 3–5) and their 4 families with low income and history of maternal depression. Various music therapy interventions seem to aid the development of MRO within parent-child dyads by providing opportunities to rehearse adaptive ways of connecting with each other.

Pasiali, V., LaGasse, A. B. & Penn, S. (2014). The Effect of Musical Attention Control Training (MACT) on Attention Skills of Adolescents with Neurodevelopmental Delays: A Pilot Study. Journal of Music Therapy 51(4), 333-354.

Nine students (ages 13 to 20) diagnosed with autism and/or developmental delays participated in this single group pretest/posttest study that examined the effects of group music therapy for improving attention skills via implementing a 45-min Musical Attention Control Training (MACT) intervention, examining its efficacy via use of the Test of Everyday Attention for Children (TEA-Ch). Data analysis indicated positive feasibility and positive trends for attentional control/switching and selective attention.

*Reschke-Hernandez, A. E. (2011). History of music therapy treatment interventions for children with autism. Journal of Music Therapy, 48(2), 169-207.

This historical research study provided a review of music therapy and treatment of children with ASD from 1940-2009. The author presented a history of autism diagnosis, reviewed the historical strengths and limitations of music therapy practice with children with ASD (1940-1989), appraised strengths and limitations of music therapy practice with children with ASD (1990-2009), and discussed future directions for music therapy research and clinical practice with this population.

Scott, L., Jellison, J., Chappell, E., & Standridge, A. (2007). Talking with Music Teachers about Inclusion: Perceptions, Opinions and Experiences. Journal of Music Therapy 44(1), 38-56.

Using the interview method with 43 teachers (16 elementary, 15 orchestra, and 12 band) to examine issues reported in previous studies and issues not yet studied, researchers noted positive responses pertaining to the teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion and resulting outcomes for students both with and without disabilities. Teachers also reported satisfaction with access to support. Further study is indicated to determine possible relationships among such variables as parent contact, type of support, and teacher attitudes.

Sena Moore, K. (2013). A Systematic Review on the Neural Effects of Music on Emotion Regulation: Implications for Music Therapy Practice. Journal of Music Therapy 50(3): 198-242.

This systematic review of 50 studies explored and synthesized what is known about how music and music experiences impact neural structures implicated in emotional regulation (ER). Results indicated certain music characteristics and experiences (e.g., listening to preferred and familiar music, when singing, and [in musicians] when improvising) produce desired neural activation patterns implicated in ER and others (e.g., introducing complexity, dissonance, and unexpected musical events) yield undesired neural activation patterns associated with ER. Implications and guidelines for use of music therapy are discussed.

Sussman, J. (2009). The Effect of Music on Peer Awareness in Preschool Age Children with Developmental Disabilities. Journal Music Therapy 46 (1) 53-68.

Nine children between the ages of 2 and 6, diagnosed with a developmental disability participated in this study that observed the effect of music on peer awareness. Behavioral data indicated that the longest sustained attention towards peers and the highest frequency of alternating attention from peer to peer took place when musical objects were used within a nonmusical or play-based context.

VanWeelden, K & Whipple, J. (2005). Preservice Teachers' Predictions, Perceptions, and Actual Assessment of Students with Special Needs in Secondary General Music. Journal of Music Therapy 42(3): 200-215.

This study examined preservice teachers' predictions and perceptions about the level of mastery of specific music education concepts and actual grades achieved by students with emotional and/or behavior disorders (EDBD) or those with acute cognitive delays (ACD) when alternative assessments and testing accommodations were employed. While the preservice teachers initially predicted that the students with EDBD would achieve a higher level of mastery, after the field experience, their perceptions of all students’ levels of mastery increased from predictions of scores overall. Furthermore, no correlation was established between how the preservice teachers thought students would perform, how they thought the students performed, and how the students actually performed based on assessment data.

VanWeelden, K. & Whipple, J. (2007). Preservice Music Teachers' Predictions, Perceptions, and Assessment of Students with Special Needs: The Need for Training in Student Assessment.  Journal of Music Therapy 44(1), 74-84.

This investigation produced the same outcomes as the authors’ 2005 study (see above); although in this research example, the preservice teachers worked with two rather than one subpopulation of students. The authors note that preservice teachers’ attitudes and perceptions about students’ level of mastery increased over the predicted scores regardless of the number of populations they worked with during their field experiences.

*Walworth, D. D. (2007). The use of music therapy within the SCERTS® model for children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Music Therapy, 44(1), 2-22.

This paper described the SCERTS® model, a comprehensive curriculum designed to assess and identify treatment goals and objectives for children with ASD and how music therapists provide clinical services based on this. The author explained how music therapy may be aligned with SCERTS® goals and objectives.

*Walworth, D., Register, D. & Engel, J. N. (2009). Using the SCERTS® Model Assessment tool to identify music therapy goals for clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Music Therapy, 46(3), 204-16.

A post hoc descriptive analysis of videotaped sessions submitted by 33 music therapists sought to identify the areas of the SCERTS® Model that the music therapists focused on within their sessions for young children with ASD. The frequency of SCERTS® domains and goals that were addressed were compared following coding of the sessions by four independent observers. Results indicated that music therapists worked on all three SCERTS® domains (i.e., social communication, emotional regulation, and transactional support). Furthermore, 58 of the 320 possible subgoals in the social partner and language partner stages were addressed with at least a 90% frequency. The authors noted that the SCERTS® Model Assessment may yield a substantial number of additional untapped goals and subgoals appropriate for music therapy intervention.

Whipple, C., Gfeller K., Driscoll, V., Oleson, J. & McGregor, K. (2015). Do Communication Disorders Extend to Musical Messages? An Answer from Children with Hearing Loss or Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Music Therapy (2015,) 52(1), 78-116.

This study compared recognition of symbolic representation of emotions or movements in music by children with severe to profound hearing loss (using cochlear implants [CI]) and children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Both also were compared to the responses of those with typical-development and normal hearing (TD-NH). No significant differences were found between the ASD and TD-NH groups in identification of musical emotions or movements, but the CI group was significantly less accurate than the other two groups.

*Whipple, J. (2004). Music in intervention for children and adolescents with autism: Meta-analysis. Journal of Music Therapy, 41(2), 90-106.

This meta-analysis examined 12 dependent variables from 9 quantitative studies, looking at such factors as type of dependent variables, theoretical approach, number and age of subjects in treatment sessions, plus selection and presentation of music. This study revealed that using music yields significant treatment benefits in interventions with children and adolescents with ASD, particularly in the areas of social (challenging, self-stimulatory, mealtime out-of-seat behaviors), communication (eye contact, verbalization, spontaneous speech, social acknowledgment, and communicative acts) and cognitive skill enhancement (gross motor task completion, computer task response accuracy, shape identification, vocabulary comprehension, and point and look at stimulus).

Williams, K., Berthelsen, D., Nicholson, J., Walker, S., & Abad, V. (2012). The Effectiveness of a Short-Term Group Music Therapy Intervention for Parents Who Have a Child with a Disability. Journal of Music Therapy 49(1), 23-44.

Pre- and post-intervention parental questionnaires and clinician observation measures were completed by 201 mother-child dyads (i.e., where the child had a disability) to examine the effectiveness of a short-term group music therapy intervention outcomes of parental wellbeing, parenting behaviors, and child development. Significant improvements pre- to post-intervention were found for parent mental health, child communication and social skills, parenting sensitivity, parental engagement with child and acceptance of child, child responsiveness to parent, and child interest and participation in program activities.

Wilson, B. & Smith, D. (2000). Music Therapy Assessment in School Settings: a Preliminary Investigation. Journal of Music Therapy 37(2), 95-117.

Investigation of music therapy assessments in school settings via online data bases of published articles from 1980 – 1997 as well as hand searches sought to discover: 1. Which music-based assessment tools are being used with children with disabilities? 2. Have certain assessments been used in more than one study?  3. Are the actual assessments published along with the articles describing their use? 4. What is the primary purpose for using the assessment? 5. What are the musical or nonmusic elements being assessed?  6. What subject populations are being assessed? Little commonality in assessment tools or replication of existing tools were found; most assessments were unpublished and designed by the assessor. The two top reasons for assessment were to establish baseline or to determine eligibility for service. Most frequently reported musical elements assessed were music perception, musical aptitude and musical preferences; nonmusical behaviors/responses rated most frequently were self-expression, motor responses and behavioral responses. Children with developmental disabilities/mental retardation and children with autism were the student populations most often assessed.

Music Therapy Perspectives:

*Allgood, N. (2005). Parents’ perception of family-based group music therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 23(2), 92-99.

This qualitative treatment case study investigated parents’ perceptions of family-based music therapy services for their children with ASD who were between the ages of 4 and 6. Data were gathered via pre-interview sessions and in post-interview focus groups with parents from 4 families. Parents responded positively to a 7-week family-based group music therapy intervention, articulating new insights about themselves and their children.

Bell, A., Perry, R., Peng, M. & Miller, A. (2014). The Music Therapy Communication and Social Interaction Scale (MTCSI): Developing a New Nordoff-Robbins Scale and Examining Interrater Reliability. Music Therapy Perspectives 32(1), 61-70.

Piloted with 36 children ages 2–5 in a special education setting, this article documents the development of the Music Therapy Communication and Social Interaction scale (MTCSI) and presents preliminary interrater reliability data of raters from 4 different academic backgrounds who used the MTCSI  to code the music therapy sessions of 8 participants. Interrater reliability was high, with only one exception noted. The MTCSI appears to have merit for evaluating social interaction and communication; however, questions were raised concerning its use as a practical clinical tool.

Carpente, J. (2014). Individual Music-Centered Assessment Profile for Neurodevelopmental Disorders (IMCAP-ND): New Developments in Music-Centered Evaluation. Music Therapy Perspectives 32(1), 56-60.

This article addresses new developments in the Individual Music-Centered Assessment Profile for Neurodevelopmental Disorders (IMCAP-ND), giving a historical review of other Nordoff-Robbins assessments as well as an overview of the IMCAP-ND. This new music-centered assessment tool is based on Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy practice and evaluates how clients perceive, create, and play music with the music therapist.

de Mers, C., Tincani, M., van Norman, R.& Higgins, K. (2009). Effects of Music Therapy on Young Children's Challenging Behaviors: A Case Study. Music Therapy Perspectives 27(2), 88-96.

The effectiveness of music therapy interventions that utilized social stories with 3 young children with challenging behaviors within a special education setting was the topic of this multiple baseline study that targeted the problem behaviors (i.e., hitting and screaming)  and an alternative behavior (i.e.,  asking). Using visual analyses, the authors determined that music therapy decreased problem behaviors and increased alternative behaviors for two of the participants; the third participant who exhibited few challenging behaviors during baseline, music therapy had less therapeutic effect.  Because music therapy gains appeared to continue at least 3 weeks after intervention, the authors called for future research to examine the role of classroom staff to promote generalization of music therapy techniques across environments.

Dellatan, A. (2003). The Use of Music with Chronic Food Refusal: A Case Study. Music Therapy Perspectives 21(2), 105-109.

This case study example looked at the contingent use of music with a five-year-old boy with Autism- Spectrum Disorder who presented with feeding problems. After applying the protocol of adding contingent use of music, a significant decrease in food refusal behaviors as well as an increase of food consumption quantities were documented. Since food refusal and eating issues may interfere not only with basic nutrition needs, but also with the development of oral motor skills, ramifications for further music therapy interventions and other research avenues were suggested.

Fees, B., Kaff,, M., Holmberg, T., Teagarden, J. & Delreal, D. (2014). Children’s Responses to A Social Story Song in Three Inclusive Preschool Classrooms: A Pilot Study. Music Therapy Perspectives 32(1), 71-77.

In this pilot study, preschool teachers on a military post, trained by the music therapist, implemented a social story song about waiting within six multi-age classrooms for five weeks. Teachers reported that the song was effective in modifying the behavior of exceptionally as well as typically developing children when either they or the children initiated the song. Teachers also perceived the training they received to be sufficient for them to immediately use the songs.

Gadberry, A. (2012). Client Communicative Acts and Therapist Prompts With and Without Aided Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems. Music Therapy Perspectives 30(2), 151-157.

Participants in this within-subjects, alternating treatments design study were boys between the ages of 4 and 9. Seven had diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The study assessed (a) frequency of their intentional communicative acts, (b) nature of their communicative functions, and (c) frequency of the music therapist's prompts for communication within a music therapy intervention with aided Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and one without aided AAC. All children demonstrated significantly more intentional communication and more variety of communicative functions when using aided AAC in music therapy sessions. The amount of prompts provided by the music therapists did not significantly differ in the two conditions.

Hanson-Abromeit,D. (2015). A Conceptual Methodology to Define the Therapeutic Function of Music. Music Therapy Perspective 33 (1), 25-38.

Few strategic methods support the description of the musical elements in the development of treatment interventions.  This article offers an ante-hoc worksheet to articulate the Therapeutic Function of Music (TFM) Plan that can help the music therapist organize the relationship between the treatment goal, theoretical framework, and musical elements in order to define the purpose and intent of each musical element. The result is a theory-based synthesis of the music as a whole for therapeutic intervention across a wide range of client populations. The TFM Plan will benefit music therapy with stronger explanations of the therapeutic effect of music, generate consistent application of music characteristics for therapeutic response, support predictable outcomes, and foster a specialized understanding of music as a therapeutic medium differentiated from other professionals using music-based interventions.

*Kern, P., Wakeford, L., & Aldridge, D. (2007). Improving the performance of a young child with autism during self-care tasks using embedded song interventions: A case study. Music Therapy Perspectives, 25(1), 43-51.

This alternating treatment design study investigated the effectiveness of embedding information within songs to prompt multiple-step self-care tasks for a 3-year-old child with ASD enrolled in an inclusive classroom. Musical versus verbal presentations of the task sequence were compared across three self-help tasks. The song intervention was more effective than lyric/spoken intervention for hand-washing and cleaning up while lyrics/spoken words appeared more successful for toileting.

LaGasse, A. B. & Welde Hardy, M. (2013). Considering Rhythm for Sensorimotor Regulation in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives 31(1), 67-77.

Researchers and clinicians are beginning to recognize an extended profile of ASD that may include deficits in sensorimotor skills. However, findings regarding motor skills and neurological structures appear to be inconsistent and may lead to more questions about the nature of ASD. Nevertheless, these findings offer potential implications for treatment and therapy for individuals with autism. This paper reviews evidence of motor differences in ASD, presents clinical findings within motor research, and draws parallels from existing music therapy sensorimotor treatment to maximize the benefits of music therapy; concepts are explained via a case example of a boy with ASD and motor dyspraxia.

*Lim, H. (2009). Use of Music to Improve Speech Production in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Theoretical Orientation. Music Therapy Perspectives 27(2). 103-114.

The purpose of this paper is to review research literature on the perception and production of speech and music in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and to explain the common principles and mechanisms of music and speech perception and production in the children. Pattern perception and production are a common phenomenon for speech and music. Children with ASD appear to have an intact ability to perceive and produce speech patterns and demonstrate Gestalt processing in their language acquisition such as echolalia. They also have intact auditory areas and functions to process various patterns in musical sounds. Collectively, children with ASD follow the same principles of Gestalt pattern perceptual organization for music and speech. The capacity of musical pattern perception and production might influence the speech production by activating the common mechanisms involved in both music and speech. Children with ASD might perceive important linguistic information embedded in the music stimuli and produce them as functional speech. This review provides a theoretical implication for the use of music as an effective way to enhance speech production in children with ASD.

*Lim, H. A. (2010). Use of music in the applied behavior analysis verbal behavior approach for children with autism spectrum disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives, 28(2), 95-105.

This article discussed how music may be used to treat young children with ASD within the Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior approach and also described a music therapy language training session protocol. Pairing targeted verbal behavior with musical experiences might establish effective automatic reinforcement and increase the frequency of communicative behaviors and social interactions.

Pasiali, V. (2004). The Use of Prescriptive Therapeutic Songs in a Home-Based Environment to Promote Social Skills Acquisition by Children with Autism: Three Case Studies. Music Therapy Perspectives 22(1), 11-20.

In this ABAB reversal design, the researcher investigated the effect of prescriptive therapeutic songs on promoting social skills acquisition in case studies of three children with autism. Parents identified undesirable behaviors and the music therapist adapted lyrics that were then embedded in a favorite tune of each child. Results were inconclusive for decreasing the targeted behaviors; however, there were indications that prescriptive songs may be a viable intervention with children who have autism.

Preis, J. Arnon, R., Silbert, D. & Rozegar, A. (2015). Does Music Matter? The Effects of Background Music on Verbal Expression and Engagement in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Music Therapy Perspectives doi: 10.1093/mtp/miu044. First published online: March 20, 2015.

This 28-week, alternating treatments design preliminary study investigated if the presentation of background music during structured play increases the number of utterances and increases engagement in young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and does the type of music affect these results?  Researchers found that background music alone had no effect on either spontaneous verbal expression or engagement in the five young participants with autism, nor were the outcome measures affected by the type of music played (e.g., classical, children’s songs, or reggae).

Reschke-Hernández, A. (2012). Music-Based Intervention Reporting for Children with Autism: Implications for Music Therapy Publication Guidelines. Music Therapy Perspectives 30(2), 167-175.

This study utilized the Music-Based Intervention Reporting Criteria (Robb, Burns, & Carpenter, 2010) to evaluate 23 publications of music-based interventions for children with autism from 1990 to February 2010. Significant gaps in intervention reporting were discovered in the areas of intervention theory, music reference, intervention materials, interventionist, treatment fidelity, and setting. The author discusses implications for improving the quality of future publications of music-based interventions for children with autism, suggesting that music-based interventions are extremely complex thereby making transparent reporting and accurate reproduction difficult. 

Ritholz, M. (2014). The Primacy of Music and Musical Resources in Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy. Music Therapy Perspectives 32(1): 8-17.

This article discusses the major role that music itself plays in Nordoff-Robbins music therapy, referring to the originators’ views of the musical experience and the integration of art form and therapeutic function in clinical composition and improvisation. A survey of Nordoff-Robbins’ published musical resources and related texts, as well as notated, audio and video examples of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy with children diagnosed with autism  demonstrate the interplay of improvisation and composition in the “here and now” of human interaction during music therapy sessions.

Thompson, G. (2012). Family-Centered Music Therapy in the Home Environment: Promoting Interpersonal Engagement between Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Their Parents. Music Therapy Perspectives 30(2), 109-116.

Family-centered practice is a widely accepted approach to early intervention for families of children with special needs. Services are provided in natural settings such as the home; professionals embed therapeutic approaches into the child's daily routines so that the family can play a role in facilitation. Particularly useful with young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, this approach offers a way of encouraging interpersonal engagement that may lead to the development of early social and communication skills. A model for applying family-centered practice to music therapy methods is described via case examples and reflections on music therapy practice.



*From Humpal, M. (2012). Annotated bibliography: Selected research at-a-glance. In P. Kern & M. Humpal (Eds.) Early Childhood Music Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorders – Developing Potential in Young Children and their Families. Pp. 280-288. London & Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Used with Permission.


Prepared by the AMTA Strategic Priority Group on Music Therapy and ASD for the American Music Therapy Association on September 27, 2015. Copyright ©2015 by AMTA. All rights reserved.