Family-centred music therapy to promote social engagement in young children with severe autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled study

Child Care Health Dev. 2014 Nov;40(6):840-52. doi: 10.1111/cch.12121. Epub 2013 Nov 22.


Background: Limited capacity for social engagement is a core feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), often evident early in the child's development. While these skills are difficult to train, there is some evidence that active involvement in music-making provides unique opportunities for social interaction between participants. Family-centred music therapy (FCMT) endeavours to support social engagement between child and parent within active music-making, yet the extent of benefits provided is unknown.

Aim: This study investigated the impacts of FCMT on social engagement abilities.

Methods: Twenty-three children (36-60 months) with severe ASD received either 16 weeks of FCMT in addition to their early intervention programmes (n = 12), or their early intervention programme only (n = 11). Change in social engagement was measured with standardized parent-report assessments, parent interviews and clinician observation.

Results: Intention-to-treat analysis for the Vineland Social Emotional Early Childhood Scale indicated a significant effect in favour of FCMT. Thematic qualitative analysis of the parent interviews showed that the parent-child relationship grew stronger.

Conclusion: FCMT improves social interactions in the home and community and the parent-child relationship, but not language skills or general social responsiveness. This study provides preliminary support for the use of FCMT to promote social engagement in children with severe ASD.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; family-centred service; music therapy; randomized trials; social relationships.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Early Intervention, Educational*
  • Family Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Music Therapy*
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents / education
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome