The Effects of Music Therapy on the Interactive Lives of Children Who Have Autism

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Gombert, Debra Jelinek
Master of Arts in Music Therapy
The purpose of this study was to observe the effects of a music therapy intervention on the interactive lives of pre-school children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The participants were a convenience sample of 11 children who had been previously diagnosed as having an ASD, and live in a suburban area of the Midwest. The children ranged in age from 3 to 5.5 years of age. Parents and an observer rated the children’s interactions with others using a pre-test post-test pre-experimental design. The hypothesis was that a four-week music therapy intervention would result in a positive change in each child’s interactive life, as measured by the Interactive Life component of the Adult-Child Relationship Map (IARM), a tool developed by MacDonald (2004). The term interactive life is defined as having three components: social play, imitation, and reciprocal turn-taking. Since impairments in social interaction are a hallmark symptom of ASD, interventions that focus on these elements are essential for children who have ASD. A trained observer reported a statistically significant average increase of 0.8 points on the I-ARM. When the measure was completed by the parents, only 5 out of 11 children had an increase in scores on the I-ARM; thus these increases were not statistically significant. Since the results from the trained observer’s report did show a statistically significant increase on the measure, this study indicates that music therapy may be a valuable intervention to increase a child’s social interaction. Recommendations for further research include conducting the intervention over a longer period of time, using two observers to view each child’s sessions, and using a mixed-methods approach in future study with the I-ARM.