Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Allison Ortolano, Sally Gallena, Ph.D.

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The Impact of Incorporating Music Therapy on Joint Attention Skills

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often experience a profound impairment in social abilities. Social impairments include avoidance of eye contact, 
decreased joint attention, and lack of initiation. These impairments may result in negative long-term effects on interpersonal relationships that can span a lifetime (Grigore & Rusu, 
2014). To help target and treat the social inabilities of individuals with ASD, research has been conducted on the efficacy of social skills group vs. individual therapy.  There has 
also been research on the positive effects of using music therapy to address behavioral, communicative, psychological, and social functioning of children with ASD (LaGasse, 
2014). Although both social skills group intervention and music therapy have been widely studied separately, there is a lack of research on the outcomes when the two treatments are used in combination. It is unknown whether incorporating music therapy has an effect on specific social skills, such as joint attention, taught in a group setting.  Therefore, this study intends to investigate whether the use of music therapy (i.e. background music) increases the frequency of joint attention initiations. 

Eighteen preschool children with a specific ASD diagnosis will be randomly assigned to the music therapy (i.e. background music) social skills group or the traditional social skills group with no music therapy. Children will participate in ten 30-minute group sessions over a period of 5 weeks. The Early Social Communication Scales (ESCS) will be used to measure joint attention initiations pre and post intervention. Both groups will have the same treatment plans and procedures. The following question will be addressed: Do children with ASD who receive music therapy incorporated into a social skills group model for a total of five hours demonstrate a significant improvement in joint attention skills as compared to children who solely receive 5 hours of social skills group treatment?