Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Music Therapy for Children with Autism May Not Lead to As Many Benefits as First Thought

A large clinical trial has resulted in findings that music therapy may not be as beneficial to children with autism as many people believed.

Researchers conducted a study in nine separate countries. Children with ASD undertook a similar test of their social skills, and all recorded similar results regardless of whether they had undertaken music therapy. “Music therapy - like many other interventions that have been suggested - does not improve autism symptoms,” said senior author Christian Gold, of the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Center and Uni Research Health in Bergen, Norway.

For many years people have believed that music and ASD have been linked. A normal routine music therapy session would include a person helping someone on the ASD spontaneously sing, play, and move in conjunction with sounds and music. In the United States alone, there are almost 7,000 music therapists and almost another 6,000 across Europe.

The researchers recruited 364 children aged from 4 to 7 years, from ten different treatment centers between 2011 and 2015. They chose children from Australia, Austria, Korea, Italy, Brazil, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom. The all received regular treatment, but half of the children also received music therapy. “Music therapy is also among the interventions that have been recommended when it is available,” he said. “Some parents who are frustrated with behavioral interventions may experience it as bringing back the joy of being with their child in a natural way.”

The researchers then conducted tests on how the children had done. They couldn’t find any difference between the children that had received the music therapy and those that hadn’t had any music therapy. Gold said parents should continue to pursue music therapy if they feel it's a good match for their children, but don't expect it to be a so-called treatment.

“Since the very first descriptions of autism in the 1940s, it has been noted that many people with autism have a special interest in music,” he said. “Music therapists can help them to pursue that interest. If they also learn something about social communication through that, even better. But the pursuit of music or music therapy should not be guided primarily by the hope to reduce core symptoms of autism, because that may not be the result.”

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