Intact Musical Abilities in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Friday, May 12, 2017: 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
K. Jamey1, N. E. Foster1, M. Sharda1, C. Tuerk1, R. Chowdhury1, E. Germain1, A. Nadig2 and K. L. Hyde1,2, (1)University of Montreal, Montreal, QC, Canada, (2)Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterized by socio-communication difficulties and atypical sensory perception, particularly in the auditory domain. Despite these impairments, individuals with ASD often have preserved or even enhanced musical skills (Ouimet et al., 2012; Heaton, 2003). Music is therefore insightful for studying auditory processing in ASD. However, music perception on the whole remains poorly understood and underexplored in ASD.

Objectives: The aim of the current study was to evaluate musical perception abilities in school-age children with ASD compared to typical developing (TD) children on a variety of musical tasks including pitch and rhythm discrimination as well as melodic memory. Based on the Enhanced Perceptual Functioning model (Mottron, 2006), we expected children with ASD to perform similar to or better than TD.

Methods: Participants were 28 children with ASD and 24 TD children aged 7-12 years old, matched on age (ASD M=10.5 years, SD=1.6; TD M=9.9 years, SD=1.7; p=.20) and IQ (ASD M=115.6 years, SD=14.6; TD M=119.8, SD=12.9; p=.31). Children with ASD were diagnosed using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. Exclusion criteria were IQ<85 (measured using the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence) or any hearing impairment. Musical ability was measured using the Montreal Battery for Evaluation of Musical Abilities (MBEMA, Peretz et al, 2013), a music battery with three subtests, 1) melodic pitch, 2) rhythm, and 3) musical memory. Performance accuracy (percent correct) was calculated for all subtests as well as a global score. Participants scoring below chance level (<.55) on the global score (ASD: n=4, TD: n=1) were excluded from analysis. Data was analyzed using repeated-measures ANOVA with group as the between-subjects factor and subtest as the within-subjects factor.

Results: Both ASD and TD performed similarly on the MBEMA. There was no significant main effect of group (F(44)=.05, p=.82), or group X subtest interaction, (F(2,88)=.63, p=.54). There was however, a significant main effect of subtest (F(88)=6.272, p<.01), with both ASD and TD performing better on the rhythm subtest than on the melodic pitch or musical memory subtests. A bonferroni post-hoc analysis yielded a significant difference between rhythm and melody (p<.01), as well as rhythm and memory (p<.05) but no mean difference between melody and memory (p=.1.0; Figure 1).

Conclusions: Children with ASD performed similarly to TD on melodic pitch, rhythm and memory perception tests. TD children in this sample showed a music perception profile similar to the sample the test was normed on (Peretz, 2013). These findings show that music perception abilities are intact in school-age children of average IQ, diagnosed with ASD. These results also provide evidence for preservation of auditory abilities in the musical domain in ASD. This work supports the use of music to improve functioning in other domains in ASD, and can guide future studies of music therapy.