Study findings published in Translational Psychiatry revealed that 8 to 12 weeks of individual music intervention improved social communication and functional brain connectivity in children with autism.
“Currently, evidence for effectiveness of music interventions is limited and there is no neuroscientific basis for its use in [autism spectrum disorder],” Megha Sharda, PhD, from the international laboratory for brain, music and sound at University of Montreal, and colleagues wrote. “Previous randomized controlled trials of music interventions for ASD have reported positive effects of music on emotional engagement, social interaction, communication and parent–child relationships, suggesting that musical activities in a therapeutic context can promote measurable behavioral changes in children with ASD.”
Researchers examined the neurobehavioral outcomes of a music intervention, compared with a non-music control intervention, on social communication and brain connectivity in 51 children with autism aged 6 to 12 years. They examined social communication and resting-state functional connectivity of frontotemporal brain networks via MRI scan before and after intervention.
Participants received either 45-minute, individual weekly sessions conducted over 8 to 12 weeks of music intervention, which involved using improvisational approaches through musical instruments, songs and rhythmic cues to target social communication, or non-music intervention, a structurally-matched, play-based intervention without musical activities. Both interventions focused on creating a shared experience, building meaningful relationships and emphasizing self-expression through varied activities that targeted verbal and social communication, multisensory integration and emotional regulation, according to the researchers.
Children in the music intervention group had greater improvement in communication post-intervention compared with those in the non-music intervention group (mean difference = 4.84; 95% CI, 0.76-8.92). Based on post-intervention assessment, the researchers reported that brain connectivity in children with autism in the music group was linked to improvement in communication (P < .0001).
In addition, the results showed that the resting-state brain functional connectivity after intervention was greater in the music intervention group than in the non-music group between the auditory and subcortical regions (P < .0001) and the auditory and fronto-motor regions (P < .0001). Sharda and colleagues found that children had lower brain connectivity between auditory and visual regions after receiving the music intervention compared with children who received the non-music intervention, which are known over-connected regions in autism (P < .00001).
“Music interventions may thus have a positive influence on social functioning, possibly through modulation of domain-general sensory and cognitive processes, which are often atypical ASD,” the investigators wrote. “Future research should focus on better understanding the neural mechanisms underlying music-related changes in brain connectivity and its impact on social behavior.” – by Savannah Demko
Disclosure: Sharda reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.