The effects of instrumental music instruction on the neurophysiological responses and adaptive behaviors of children with autism spectrum disorder

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Michelle L. Chinn Cannon (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Patricia Sink

Abstract: Autism spectrum disorder, also referred to as autism, is a complex and heterogeneous neurodevelopmental condition characterized by deficits in social communication, delayed or absent language development, and restricted or repetitive behaviors. Finding an appropriate, effective, and affordable intervention that targets these differences may increase access of children with autism to treatment that improves their quality of life, independence, and productivity, while reducing lifetime care costs. The premise of this exploratory study was that music instruction may serve as an appropriate, effective, and affordable intervention for children with autism. Previous researchers noted that children with autism have both an affinity for and ability in music, while neuroscientists demonstrated increased cortical growth and neural network responses among musicians. At the onset of the current study, no published research studies were found that explicitly examined effects of musical training on both neural activity and adaptive behaviors of children with autism. The purpose of this exploratory research study was to investigate the effects of instrumental music instruction on neurophysiological responses and adaptive behaviors of children with autism. Fourteen children with autism participated in the current study. During a 20-week period, a control group (n = 7) received 30 minutes of non-music intervention per week, and an experimental group (n = 7) received 30 minutes of music intervention (i.e., violin instruction) per week. Before and after the intervention period, neurophysiological and adaptive behavioral data were collected from control and experimental groups. The 14 participants of the study were assigned randomly to either the control (i.e., non-music intervention group), or the experimental (i.e., music intervention group). Eleven children completed the behavioral segment of this study, five in the control group and six in the experimental group. As compared to the non-music intervention group, experimental participants displayed significant gains in Expressive Communication (p =.018). Increases in Interpersonal Socialization by the music intervention group also approached significance (p = .057). The researcher found a moderately large effect size for Expressive Communication (r = .694), and for Interpersonal Socialization (r = .589), accounting for approximately 40% and 35% of the variances of the two adaptive behaviors before and after music intervention, respectively. Eight children completed the neurophysiological segment of this study, three in the control group and five in the experimental group. Results revealed several trends in the differences between the control and experimental intervention groups' postintervention neurophysiological responses. While changes were not observed among the non-music group's pre- and post-intervention cortical activity, changes were observed among the experimental group's cortical activation in areas associated with social and language learning. These findings supported the premise that instrumental music study may serve as an appropriate, effective, and affordable intervention, targeting the hallmark behaviors of autism and potentially associated cortical areas.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2018
Autism, Music, Music education
Children with autism spectrum disorders $x Education
Autistic children $x Education
Music $x Instruction and study
Music $x Physiological effect
Music $x Physiological effect

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