Home / News / Study casts doubt on music therapy for kids with autism – CNN

Study casts doubt on music therapy for kids with autism – CNN

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

Mostly, he remembers vibrations, sounds. He was three years previous.

“I like sounds,” he stated. “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 bodily expertise of music in addition to the sound. This is true for singing, too: “Sometimes, I sing to myself or I sing karaoke,” he stated.

“I just like harmonies.”

Jones, who has autism, “sang before he could speak,” stated Maria Hodermarska, a licensed artistic arts therapist and a registered drama therapist who teaches within 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 isn’t solely a therapist, she is Jones’ mom.

Ethan Jones

“That part of his brain was developed and functional,” she stated. Even although her son might sing a number of strains from a Beatles music, he could not make even the simplest of requests like “I would like a sandwich.”

“It was the singing that led him into speech,” Hodermarska stated.

The level of music therapy for individuals with autism modifications as a toddler grows up, observes Hodermarska, although she acknowledges that the qualitative benchmarks — resembling whether or not and the way a lot music therapy improves the social expertise of an individual with autism — could also be “challenging to measure.”

A new study revealed Tuesday within the Journal of the American Medical Association makes an attempt to do precisely that.

Measuring success

In the research, Norwegian researchers discovered that music therapy plus commonplace care for youngsters with autism spectrum dysfunction didn’t enhance their symptom severity greater than normal care alone.

Led by Christian Gold of the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre in Bergen, the research checked out 364 youngsters with autism. Half have been randomly assigned to enhanced normal care for 5 months and the remaining 182 to enhanced commonplace care plus improvisational music therapy for 5 months. The youngsters ranged in age from four to 7 years previous, and the research was carried out in 9 nations.

Enhanced normal care consisted of the regionally out there ordinary care for youngsters with autism, plus dad or mum counseling to offer info and talk about considerations.

“This was by definition a varied category,” Gold stated, explaining that the purpose of the research was pragmatic in that it was in search of to find out “real world” effectiveness. “Most commonly, enhanced standard care included speech and language therapy, communication training and sensory-motor therapy.”

In improvisational music therapy, educated music therapists often sing or play music with youngsters, attuned and tailored to the kid’s focus of consideration.

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Donna Murray, vice chairman of medical packages at Autism Speaks, stated that within the US courses she’s noticed, musical therapy is usually “child-led music,” during which a toddler and therapist create music collectively. “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 5 months, the researchers discovered that the quantity of enchancment in symptom severity for each teams was small.

“Children get a lot of things simultaneously, and sometimes that could be too much,” Gold stated. He famous that he and his staff noticed how the youngsters who acquired music therapy alongside with enhanced commonplace care appeared “to reduce, a little bit, the other therapies.” This pure “compensation” meant that in the long run, the research made virtually a “head-to-head comparison.”

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Finding no vital variations in social measures between the 2 teams, the research doesn’t help using improvisational music therapy for symptom discount in youngsters with autism spectrum dysfunction, 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 stated. “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 query is, he stated, what’s the correct quantity of therapy and proper combination for every baby?

“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 stated. Gold added that since autism can also be a character trait, and never only a dysfunction, it is necessary to seek out the “right social context for children, where autistic symptoms are accepted and understood, instead of trying to remove those symptoms.”

Though extra analysis is required, he believes music therapy may work greatest for youngsters with autism who do not have lots of verbal talents and who might have a number of issues “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.

Strengths and weaknesses

“It’s a strong study if you believe in music therapy as a medical intervention,” stated Kenneth Aigen, interim program director and affiliate professor of music therapy at NYU Steinhardt, who was not concerned within the analysis. Another power is the massive variety of individuals, that are uncommon in musical therapy research, he stated.

However, the research was weak, Aigen stated, “if you think of music therapy in a more humanistic sense” as offering individuals the chance to complement their lives. And the best weak spot could also be that the researchers lumped collectively “a whole host of practitioners from many different cultures, countries and methods and assuming that what they’re doing is similar enough to each other in order to warrant being evaluated as the same thing.”

“Music doesn’t have a generic structure like medication does, and it doesn’t have a universal set of procedures like a surgical procedure does,” Aigen stated.

He additionally criticized the premise “that the focus of therapy should be to make people less autistic,” Aigen stated. “That’s not how autistic people look at their autism anymore. That’s not the kind of help they want for themselves.”

Portrait of a 6-year-old artist with autism and her therapy cat

Murray, who ran an autism program that included music therapy earlier than becoming a member of Autism Speaks, stated many interventions for youngsters with autism could also be useful even when they present combined leads to medical trials. “This (study) falls into that bucket but it’s not alone,” stated Murray, who was not concerned on this analysis.

Among the potential flaws of the research, she stated, “I wonder about five months: When you’re looking at general ability, it’s not a super long time.”

If you possibly can interact a toddler with autism with “something appealing like music, at a minimum, that’s a great start for some sort of social interaction,” Murray stated. She added that for these youngsters who favored music, she “did find the children tended to enjoy and be more — at least on appearances — be more present and socially engaged.”

“Sometimes, when children are actively engaged like that, that’s when you sort of open the doors for learning,” she stated. Still, the outcomes do not present the proof to say that music therapy “should be a go-to” for enhancing social and a spotlight talents, she stated. “I don’t want families to ever feel like their child is going without if the evidence is not there.” She confused, although, that it could not harm.

“Every parent knows their child,” Murray stated. “If this is something that really engages their child, then I would say this could certainly be something on their menu of choices of activities.”

Communication by way of music

Hodermarska stated that for her son, “it was clear from the very beginning that music was a way in to him and for him.”

Jones began music therapy at Nordoff Robbins Center for Music Therapy in a gaggle of three. In these early days, the method was about “learning to communicate, to sort of string those sung sentences into language, to be able to communicate with peers,” stated Hodermarska.

Around his third yr in music therapy, Hodermarska and Jones’ dad cut up.

“All he wanted was for his musical therapist to sing to him,” stated Hodermarska, who believes that “symbolically,” there a was so much there “about being parented, about being cared for, about having a safe place to be held in a time that was very turbulent for him.”

He then turned very desirous about the way to play totally different devices, and his music therapist labored with him on enjoying chords and studying the important expertise of creating music.

Jones’ remaining part of music therapy was a collaboration on a play with his music therapist, his mom and others.

At this level, he was “emerging into his adult life, with the capacity to write music, to play music, to communicate core ideas through music,” Hodermarska stated.

Jones wrote a music about being an outsider and one other about attaining the outward measures of grownup life, together with having a girlfriend.

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Though music therapy continued till he was 16, Jones says, “it was always the same.” Describing what appeals to him about music therapy, Jones says, “moving around playing instruments, any instrument. Doing anything I want to do as long as it relates to music.”

Though he now performs solely the guitar, he likes all varieties of music and all types of devices.

“They each have different capabilities, different sounds,” he stated. With drums, “you can do a lot with beats,” together with laying your palms on the drum and feeling it pulse.

“Every child, every human being, has creative capacity,” Hodermarska stated, observing that capability could also be visible, musical, theatrical or one thing else. Finding the best therapy begins with mother and father paying consideration after which going to the American Music Therapy Association web site to seek out suppliers of their state.

Hodermarska acknowledges, although, that “parents of children with disabilities, we’re very prone to snake oil salesmen.” They are “vulnerable,” particularly since the reason for autism is just not recognized and fogeys might really feel that they themselves “caused” it. Still, there are locations to show for assist with out worry.

“We all have limited means, but I think local universities and young people have been a great source for our family of finding and building connections,” Hodermarska stated. She added that music therapy just isn’t snake oil — it doesn’t promise a remedy, as an alternative provides a “way through the challenges” — and her household was fortunate to have entry to Nordoff Robbins.

“He would not be the person he is today if not for the support of these amazing clinicians over his young life,” she stated of her son.

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