Music improves social communication and auditory-motor connectivity in children with autism

Transl Psychiatry. 2018 Oct 23;8(1):231. doi: 10.1038/s41398-018-0287-3.

Abstract

Music has been identified as a strength in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder; however, there is currently no neuroscientific evidence supporting its benefits. Given its universal appeal, intrinsic reward value and ability to modify brain and behaviour, music may be a potential therapeutic aid in autism. Here we evaluated the neurobehavioural outcomes of a music intervention, compared to a non-music control intervention, on social communication and brain connectivity in school-age children (ISRCTN26821793). Fifty-one children aged 6-12 years with autism were randomized to receive 8-12 weeks of music (n = 26) or non-music intervention (n = 25). The music intervention involved use of improvisational approaches through song and rhythm to target social communication. The non-music control was a structurally matched behavioural intervention implemented in a non-musical context. Groups were assessed before and after intervention on social communication and resting-state functional connectivity of fronto-temporal brain networks. Communication scores were higher in the music group post-intervention (difference score = 4.84, P = .01). Associated post-intervention resting-state brain functional connectivity was greater in music vs. non-music groups between auditory and subcortical regions (z = 3.94, P < .0001) and auditory and fronto-motor regions (z = 3.16, P < .0001). Post-intervention brain connectivity was lower between auditory and visual regions in the music compared to the non-music groups, known to be over-connected in autism (z = 4.01, P < .00001). Post-intervention brain connectivity in the music group was related to communication improvement (z = 3.57, P < .0001). This study provides the first evidence that 8-12 weeks of individual music intervention can indeed improve social communication and functional brain connectivity, lending support to further investigations of neurobiologically motivated models of music interventions in autism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / therapy*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Music Therapy*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN26821793

Grant support