Music Therapy Does Not Appear to Improve Autism Symptoms in Young Children — Physician’s First Watch

August 9, 2017

Music Therapy Does Not Appear to Improve Autism Symptoms in Young Children

By Amy Orciari Herman

Edited by David G. Fairchild, MD, MPH, and Lorenzo Di Francesco, MD, FACP, FHM

Music therapy seems no better than standard care alone in improving autism symptoms, according to an international trial in JAMA.

Over 350 children aged 4 to 7 years with autism spectrum disorder were randomized to receive enhanced standard care (usual care plus 3 parent counseling sessions) either alone or with improvisational music therapy. With music therapy, therapists created musical activities with each child based on the child's particular area of focus; sessions were offered one or three times weekly for 5 months.

The primary outcome — a social affect score indicative of autism symptom severity — improved somewhat with music therapy and with standard care alone, but there was no difference between the groups. In addition, most secondary outcomes did not favor music therapy.

The authors conclude, "These findings do not support the use of improvisational music therapy for symptom reduction in children with autism." Editorialists, meanwhile, wonder whether a trial "under more tightly controlled circumstances" would have yielded different results.

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