Effects of a Classroom-Based Music Therapy Model on Social Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Objectives: To identify the effect of a specialized music therapy program, Voices Together®, on communication and social-emotional skills in children with ASD.
Methods: Sixty-four students were recruited to participate from nine elementary school classrooms for children with ASD. All students completed a clinician-administered set of 20 prompts focused on communication and social-emotional adjustment at three baseline time points before treatment began. Trained music therapists then offered the Voices Together® intervention for 45 minutes, once a week, for 16 weeks. Students completed the same set of prompts during three treatment time points. In addition, teachers completed the PDD Behavior Inventory (PDDBI) for each student before treatment began and at its conclusion.
Results: Paired t-tests between baseline and treatment indicate statistically significant differences between prompt scores at Baseline 2 (M=29.37) and Treatment 2 (M=32.70), t(49) = 3.48, p<0.05, and between Baseline 3 (M=31.05) and Treatment 3 (M=32.96), t(53) = 2.89, p<0.05, with Treatment scores being higher than Baseline scores. Additionally, paired t-tests of pre- and post- PDDBI assessments indicated a significant decrease in social pragmatic problems (Mpre = 14.02, Mpost = 11.97; t(52) = 2.08, p < 0.05), and a significant increase in expressive language (Mpre = 52.08, Mpost= 55.31; t(52)= 2.45, p < 0.05).
Conclusions: While participating in Voices Together® music therapy, students’ scores on a set of prompts designed to address communication and social-emotional skills increased more than during the non-treatment period. These differences suggest that participation in the music therapy program produced an effect over and above general learning and variability within the measure. Students’ improvement in communication and social-emotional skills is further supported by the overall decrease in social pragmatic problems and increase in expressive language suggested by the PDDBI. Understanding the specific outcomes of classroom-based music therapy programs like Voices Together® provides further insight into the clinical application of music therapy techniques for the ASD pediatric population.