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Roxanne Arnon, Dara Silbert, Janet Preis, Ed.D., Ashley Rozegar, Christine Accardo

The Effects of Background Music on Communication and Engagement in Children with Autism

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The participants in this study consisted of 2 males with autism between the ages of 5 and 7 who demonstrated some verbal communication and typical cognition. The study took place in a self-contained (private) school for children with autism. “Intervention” occurred during morning guided structured play which consisted of child directed play with previously chosen materials. Passive background music (classical) was randomly selected to be played first or last. Two measures were conducted (a) frequency of spontaneous verbalization to a peer OR an adult; and (b) social responsiveness or engagement as measured by eye contact and eye contact avoidance. Children with autism typically present with deficits in social interaction and communication. These deficits include delays in language, problems with joint attention, and a lower frequency of spontaneous and responsive verbalizations (“Definition of Autism,” 2000). Studies have shown that music therapy can have a positive effect on communication behaviors in children with autism because music provides a stable, consistent and predictable environment and therefore allows comfort in a stressful atmosphere (King, 2004). Kaplan and Steele (2005) conducted research and found children with autism in music therapy environments compared to non-therapy environments reached a higher level of achieving their goals, which measured communication, behavior and cognition. Children in this study who were exposed to music were able to meet the communication and cognitive objectives set for them within a year. Discovering the effects of music could greatly benefit children with autism by allowing them to better communicate and learn in their environment. This study will further evaluate how the presence of music in the environments of children with autism can elicit improvements in communication and engagement.

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