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Study casts doubt on music therapy for kids with autism...


Well-Known Member
(Not written by me. Please click the link at the bottom of the page to read the full article, as it was too long to paste in its entirety)

Ethan Jones thinks he was playing the piano.

"I was with someone, and we were in a room, and we were just playing a piano," Jones, 23, a resident of New York, said of his first music therapy session.

Mostly, he remembers vibrations, sounds. He was 3 years old.

"I like sounds," he said. "Unless it's an alarm that you hear on a police car, ambulance or fire truck ... it just makes my heart beat fast."

He likes the physical experience of music as well as the sound. This is true for singing, too: "Sometimes, I sing to myself or I sing karaoke," he said.

"I just like harmonies."

Jones, who has autism, "sang before he could speak," said Maria Hodermarska, a licensed creative arts therapist and a registered drama therapist who teaches in the graduate program at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. "You see this actually in people who have had a traumatic brain event, like a stroke, where the capacity for singing remains but the speech center is impacted because they're two different centers of the brain."

Hodermarska is not only a therapist, she is Jones' mother.

"That part of his brain was developed and functional," she said. Even though her son could sing a few lines from a Beatles song, he couldn't make even the most simple of requests like "I would like a sandwich."

"It was the singing that led him into speech," Hodermarska said.

The point of music therapy for people with autism changes as a child grows up, observes Hodermarska, though she acknowledges that the qualitative benchmarks -- such as whether and how much music therapy improves the social skills of a person with autism -- may be "challenging to measure."

A new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association attempts to do exactly that.

Measuring success
In the study, Norwegian researchers found that music therapy plus standard care for children with autism spectrum disorder did not improve their symptom severity more than standard care alone.

Led by Christian Gold of the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre in Bergen, the study looked at 364 children with autism. Half were randomly assigned to enhanced standard care for five months and the remaining 182 to enhanced standard care plus improvisational music therapy for five months. The children ranged in age from 4 to 7 years old, and the study was conducted in nine countries.

Enhanced standard care consisted of the locally available usual care for children with autism, plus parent counseling to provide information and discuss concerns.

"This was by definition a varied category," Gold said, explaining that the point of the study was pragmatic in that it was seeking to determine "real world" effectiveness. "Most commonly, enhanced standard care included speech and language therapy, communication training and sensory-motor therapy."

In improvisational music therapy, trained music therapists usually sing or play music with children, attuned and adapted to the child's focus of attention.

Donna Murray, vice president of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, said that in the US classes she's observed, musical therapy is typically "child-led music," in which a child and therapist create music together. "So let's say the child picks up a drumstick and starts beating on the drum, and the therapist might join in. It's a creative joint experience, if you will."

After five months, the researchers found that the amount of improvement in symptom severity for both groups was small.

"Children get a lot of things simultaneously, and sometimes that could be too much," Gold said. He noted that he and his team observed how the children who received music therapy along with enhanced standard care seemed "to reduce, a little bit, the other therapies." This natural "compensation" meant that in the end, the study made almost a "head-to-head comparison."

Finding no significant differences in social measures between the two groups, the study does not support the use of improvisational music therapy for symptom reduction in children with autism spectrum disorder, the researchers concluded.

"People with autism, for as long as the term 'autism' has existed, many of them have been described as having a special interest in music," Gold said. "For those who have that interest, they should have the right to pursue that interest, whether or not it's called music therapy or just music, whether or not it is in a one-to-one setting or some other kind of setting, whatever fits."

The question is, he said, what is the right amount of therapy and right mixture for each child?

"We need to consider the everyday life of those kids as well. They're also just kids, not just kids with autism. They need to have an ordinary life as well," he said. Gold added that since autism is also a personality trait, and not just a disorder, it's necessary to find the "right social context for children, where autistic symptoms are accepted and understood, instead of trying to remove those symptoms."

Though more research is needed, he believes music therapy might work best for children with autism who don't have a lot of verbal abilities and who may have multiple problems "because it uses music rather than words."

"It might be a good option for only those kids on the lower-functioning of the spectrum," Gold speculated.

Full Article: Study casts doubt on music therapy for kids with autism - CNN

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