Cochrane Summaries

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Music therapy for people with autistic spectrum disorder

Gold C, Wigram T, Elefant C
Published Online: 
20 January 2010

People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have difficulties with communication, behaviour and/or social interaction. Music therapy uses music and its elements to enable people to communicate and to express their feelings. In this way music therapy addresses some of the core problems of people with ASD. This review set out to assess the evidence for the effectiveness of music therapy for individuals with ASD.

Three small studies were included which examined the short-term effect of brief music therapy interventions for autistic children. Music therapy was superior to "placebo" therapy with respect to verbal and gestural communicative skills, but it was uncertain whether there was an effect on behavioural outcomes. The included studies were encouraging, but of limited applicability to clinical practice. More research with better design, using larger samples, in more typical clinical settings is needed to strengthen the clinical applicability of the results and to examine how enduring the effects of music therapy are. When applying the results of this review to practice, it is important to note that the application of music therapy requires specialised academic and clinical training.