A Pilot Investigation of Classroom-Based Music Therapy for Individuals with ASD and Other Disabilities

Friday, May 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
J. Mendelson1, Y. White2, L. Hans3, R. Adebari3, J. Riggsbee4, A. Goldsmith3, K. Buehne3, S. Jones3 and G. Dawson5, (1)Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University School of Medicine, Greensboro, NC, (2)Voices Together, Durham, NC, (3)Duke University, Durham, NC, (4)Education, Duke University, Durham, NC, (5)Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC
Background:   Research supports the efficacy of music therapy for improving communication skills in children with autism and related disabilities (Gold, Wigram, & Elefant, 2010 Srinivasan & Bhat, 2013). Neuroscience research suggests that music as a treatment modality may be uniquely well-suited to the information processing strategies employed by individuals with ASD (Stanutz, Wapnick, & Burack, 2014). Given early findings suggesting its efficacy (Braithewaite & Sigafoos, 1999; Brownell, 2002; Buday, 1995), classroom-based music therapy may be an especially time and cost efficient means of treatment delivery for children with various developmental disabilities. However, little is known about the efficacy of music therapy delivered in a classroom

Objectives:   This was an initial pilot investigation of the efficacy of a classroom-based music-based intervention, Voices Together®, for improving communication skills in children with autism and developmental disabilities.

Methods:   Four local public elementary school special education classrooms serving 5 children with a classification of autistic disorder and 32 children with intellectual disability without autism were randomly selected to receive one of two levels of exposure to Voices Together®music therapy “Long-Term” (15 weeks beginning in January 2105 (Time 1), n=14) or “Short-Term” (7 weeks beginning 7 weeks later in February (Time 2), n=17). Using observational ratings, Duke University researchers reliably scored participants live in terms of their level of verbal responsiveness to prompts during three songs (Hello, Feel, and Topic) featured each week of the program. Data were collected at three time points: baseline (T1), then in 7-week increments (T2 and T3).

Results:   Independent t-tests investigating between-group (short vs. long term) differences in verbal responses at Times 2 and 3 were not significant. Both groups demonstrated increases in verbal responses over time, however, only the long-term group demonstrated significant within-group increases. Repeated measures ANOVA from Time 1 to Time 3, indicated improvement in mean verbal response during the Feelings song F(2, 28)= 3.32, p<.05 Significant change was found between Time 1 and Time 2 (t(14)= 2.63, p<.05).  There were also significant improvements in verbal responses to All Songs between Time 1 and Time 2, t(14)=2.47, p<.05, and between Time 1 and Time 3, t(14)=2.46, p<.05 (Figure 1).  Results showed a shift, on average, from ‘one word’ to ‘partial sentence’ responses to the prompts from the therapist.

Conclusions:   Findings from this initial pilot investigation suggest that music therapy delivered in a classroom can result in improvements in verbal abilities among individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. The finding that improvements were achieved during 45-minute weekly sessions in a classroom-based, public school setting suggests that structured music therapy programs such as Voices Together® may be a time efficient and cost effective modality of treatment. These preliminary findings warrant conducting a randomized controlled trial to further investigate the efficacy of classroom-based music therapy for improving speech development in children with autism and other disabilities.