Description: Refers to the application of music with the intent to enhance functioning. It consists of using music therapeutically to address behavioral, social, psychological, communicative, physical, sensory-motor, and/or cognitive functioning. The music therapist involves clients in singing, listening, moving, playing instruments, and creative activities in a systematic, prescribed manner to influence change in targeted responses or behaviors and help clients meet individual goals and objectives.
Because musical activities may be highly preferred by an individual with autism spectrum disorder (e.g., listening to music, dancing, playing an instrument), access to such activities may be used as a reward. This is different from music therapy, in which the musical activities themselves are viewed as therapeutic.
Research Summary: Preliminary evidence suggests that music therapy could be effective in enhancing functioning (Kaplan & Steele, 2005; Whipple, 2004), but this approach has not been evaluated in studies with strong experimental designs.
Recommendations: Researchers may wish to conduct studies with strong scientific designs to evaluate music therapy. Professionals should present music therapy as untested and encourage families who are considering this intervention to evaluate it carefully.
Systematic reviews of scientific studies:
Geretsegger M., Elefant C., Mössler K. A., and Gold C. (2014). Music therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 6. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004381.pub3
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.
Whipple, J. (2004). Music in intervention for children and adolescents with autism: A meta-analysis. Journal of Music Therapy, 41, 90-105.