Skills Acquired in Learning Music Generalize

From a study by Kaplan, RS and Steele, AL:

The researchers analyzed data related to goals and outcomes over 2 program years for 40 music therapy clients, ranging in age from 2-49 years, with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. They investigated music therapy interventions, session types, and formats most frequently used; goals most frequently addressed; assessed level of difficulty of clients and their situations; and generalization of skills attained in music therapy to other settings. The most common session type was individual, followed by partner, small or large groups, peer model, or a combination. Primary goal areas were ranked from language/communication (41%), behavioral/psychosocial (39%), cognitive (8%), and musical (7%), to perceptual/motor (5%). One hundred percent of subjects reached their initial objectives in these goal areas within one year or less, regardless of session type, level of difficulty, or goal area. Seventy-seven percent of intermediate objectives were reached within that time. The most frequently utilized interventions were interactive instrument playing, musical instrument instruction, interactive singing, instrument choices, and song choices. Specific interventions chosen did not affect accomplishment of initial objectives. However, there was more variation among interventions in terms of achievement of intermediate objectives. Session formats were ranked from activity-based as most frequent to lesson-based, client-led/”shadow,” and ensemble format. All formats were successful when addressing initial objectives, with lesson-based format being most effective in reaching intermediate objectives. Lastly, 100% of parents and caregivers surveyed indicated subjects generalized skills/responses acquired in music therapy to non-music therapy environments [emphasis added].

A child dressed in white shirt and blue jeans against a deep blue background with sound waves surrounding him

A Child Standing Alone and Isolated
Carol and Mike Werner

Here we see the amazing effectiveness of music therapy in achieving goals with autistic individuals. A hundred percent effectiveness is certainly nothing short of astonishing, given the time frame of a year or less, and seventy-seven percent for intermediate goals is much better than many other therapies. There are two very interesting factors: one is that lessons are most effective, and the other is that in each case, the skills gained in learning to play an instrument generalize to other behaviors. In fact, I know of no medical procedure or drug that can claim equal effectiveness. So if you know someone with autism (or even someone without autism), it’s certainly time to consider music lessons!

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