Autism: music, not a quick fix

Q: Can music help children with autism?

A: This is a topic of interest to a number of scientists. There have been several studies on this topic since 2012. One of them, conducted on 364 subjects, was published in August 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Trained music therapists sang and played music with children, listening to each child to help them develop their emotional sharing and attention skills.

Compared to usual healing techniques, improvised music therapy had no significant effect on symptom severity. According to the researchers’ conclusions, this study does not validate the use of improvisational music therapy for the reduction of symptoms of autism.

Q: So this is not the miracle cure?
A: No, it is not music alone that will suddenly make a child with autism talk nonverbal, or teach him to read and count. Music therapy cannot solve all problems. But, applied in a very rigorous way, it can have positive effects, represent a little more. It would take studies on larger populations, with homogeneous measures, to know if it is recommended.

This also poses the problem of measuring the effects of the therapies offered to children because there is great variability from one child to another. Social interaction, verbal communication, socio-emotional reciprocity are functions that are difficult to measure.

Q: Are there more effective interventions for reducing autism spectrum symptoms?
A: No intervention provides a significant generalized response for all children. What works are comprehensive programs in which we also encourage the family to understand the child and to better manage him on a daily basis. There is no one wonderful technique that works for all children. Because we are far from having found the unique key that would explain autism.

It’s like a code, a complicated code, and probably not the same for all forms of autism. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder that alters the functions of the nervous system from birth, and even before. It alters the brain in its connections. The cause is not known: genetics have a weight, the environment too.

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