Music therapy doesn’t work to improve symptoms of autistic children, despite previous research claiming it did, a new study has shown.
A study conducted at the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre in Bergen, Norway, found that music therapy plus standard care didn’t improve symptoms any more than standard care alone.
It was previously believed that music therapy stimulates and relaxes someone with autism, improving listening skills, strengthening muscles, and refining language.
But the new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association warns these techniques could be a waste of time and money.
Symptoms most commonly associated with autism include difficulty communicating and forming relationships with other people.
However, the term autism is very broad and refers to a spectrum of conditions caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences.
Researchers looked at 364 children with autism over a five month period to conduct the study.
Participants ranged between four and seven years old and lived in nine different countries.
Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive enhanced standard care during that time, and the other half received enhanced standard care and improvisational music therapy for that period of time.
The standard care offered was what was locally available for children with autism, enhanced by parent counseling to provide information and talk about any concerns.
Enhanced standard care ‘included speech and language therapy or communication training and sensory-motor therapy,’ lead author Dr Christian Gold explained.
The authors also referred to the study as ‘pragmatic,’ in that it looked at the real-world effectiveness of these therapies.
During the improvisational music therapy, the participants worked with trained music therapists and spent sessions either singing or playing music.
Therapists would adapt the practice to the child’s focus of attention when necessary.
After the five months, researchers found that there wasn’t much improvement in symptom severity in either of the two groups.
‘Children get a lot of things simultaneously, and sometimes that could be too much,’ Dr Gold said.
He also noted that, for the children who received music therapy in addition to traditional therapy, they often ‘reduced, a little bit, the other therapies.’
That compensation could be why there was almost a ‘head-to-head’ comparison in both of the groups.
But according to Dr Kenneth Aigen, an associated professor of music therapy at NYU Steinhardt who was not involved in the research, the study was flawed.
Dr Aigen told CNN that music therapy needs to be approached in a more ‘humanistic sense,’ and be considered as providing an opportunity to enrich children’s lives, as opposed to a cure for the disorder.
He did, though, praise the research for its large number of participants, a strength that is rare in musical therapy studies.
MUSIC COULD HELP TO REDUCE MEMORY LOSS
Research from Austria found that listening to music can help patients with memory loss.
How it helps: For many people suffering from memory loss the spoken language has become meaningless. Music can help patients remember tunes or songs and get in touch with their history. This is because the part of the brain which processes music is located next to memory.
The research: Researchers from Norway’s Sogn Og Fjordane College compared the effects of live, taped and no music on three different groups of people suffering from post traumatic amnesia – or memory loss.
The patients were exposed to all three conditions, twice over six consecutive days. Results showed that when patients listened to live or taped music, two thirds of them showed significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety and enhanced orientation, compared to the group that didn’t listen to music.
Which type of music is best? Research shows that people with memory loss respond best to music of their choice.