Music and Autism: A Case Study on Clinical Improvisation and Communication in One Child with High-Functioning Autism

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Shields, Erin
Master of Arts in Music Therapy
This research is an attempt to gain insight into the experience of clinical improvisational music therapy and communication for one child with highfunctioning autism (HFA), in middle-childhood; the male participant was seven years old at the time of this study. The researcher utilized a qualitative, case study method of inquiry. The participant engaged in music therapy sessions for over one year, of which four sessions were utilized for this study. The music therapy technique of clinical improvisation was used as an intervention for social, emotional, cognitive, and communication goal areas; this study is a culmination of the data recorded on only the communicative behaviors of this child. For data collection, the researcher used written notes and videotaped sessions and provided the parents/guardians with a survey to complete regarding the participant’s behaviors after the session. These forms of data were analyzed for commonalities in behaviors and verbalizations in order to answer the research questions: 1) What methods of communication does the child utilize before, during, and after the improvisation?; 2) What is the child attempting to communicate (internal or external events), before, during, and after improvisations?; 3) What aspects of communication are present before, during, and after improvisation (social behaviors, appropriate or inappropriate verbal or physical behaviors)?; and 4) Do the musical behaviors present in the improvisation indicate social or verbal communication skills? Results indicate that the verbalization and behaviors of this child are consistent with several theories on communication and autism. The child utilized the social aspects of communication during and after the improvisation and also attempted statements regarding internal events after the improvisation. The sounds and components of the clinical improvisation resembled the non-musical verbalizations and behaviors that were present in the sessions. Findings should not be generalized to the autistic population due to the variances in symptom exhibition and also the small research sample size. This study was intended to explore clinical improvisation and communication for this particular child; however, other children with HFA may have a similar experience while engaged in clinical improvisation.