Effects of a music therapy group intervention on enhancing social skills in children with autism

J Music Ther. 2014 Fall;51(3):250-75. doi: 10.1093/jmt/thu012. Epub 2014 Jul 22.


Background: Research indicates that music therapy can improve social behaviors and joint attention in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); however, more research on the use of music therapy interventions for social skills is needed to determine the impact of group music therapy.

Objective: To examine the effects of a music therapy group intervention on eye gaze, joint attention, and communication in children with ASD.

Method: Seventeen children, ages 6 to 9, with a diagnosis of ASD were randomly assigned to the music therapy group (MTG) or the no-music social skills group (SSG). Children participated in ten 50-minute group sessions over a period of 5 weeks. All group sessions were designed to target social skills. The Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC), and video analysis of sessions were used to evaluate changes in social behavior.

Results: There were significant between-group differences for joint attention with peers and eye gaze towards persons, with participants in the MTG demonstrating greater gains. There were no significant between-group differences for initiation of communication, response to communication, or social withdraw/behaviors. There was a significant interaction between time and group for SRS scores, with improvements for the MTG but not the SSG. Scores on the ATEC did not differ over time between the MTG and SSG.

Conclusions: The results of this study support further research on the use of music therapy group interventions for social skills in children with ASD. Statistical results demonstrate initial support for the use of music therapy social groups to develop joint attention.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; group intervention; music therapy; social skills.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / therapy
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology
  • Developmental Disabilities / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music
  • Music Therapy / methods*
  • Peer Group
  • Psychotherapy, Group / methods
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Skills*