Music therapy for autistic spectrum disorder.

C. Gold, T. Wigram, C. Elefant

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: The central impairments of people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) include social interaction and communication. Music therapy uses music and its elements to enable communication and expression, thus attempting to address some of the core problems of people with ASD. OBJECTIVES: To review the effects of music therapy for individuals with autistic spectrum disorders. SEARCH STRATEGY: The following databases were searched: CENTRAL, 2005, (Issue 3); Medline, (1966 to July 2004); Embase, (1980 to July 2004); LILACS, (1982 to July 2004); PsycINFO, (1872 to July 2004); CINAHL, (1982 to July 2004); ERIC, (1966 to July 2004); ASSIA, (1987 to July 2004); Sociofile, (1963 to July 2004); Dissertation Abstracts International, (late 1960's to July 2004). These searches were supplemented by searching specific sources for music therapy literature and manual searches of reference lists. Personal contacts to some investigators were made. SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised controlled trials or controlled clinical trials comparing music therapy or music therapy added to standard care to "placebo" therapy, no treatment or standard care. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Studies were independently selected, quality assessed and data extracted by two authors. Continuous outcomes were synthesised using a standardised mean difference (SMD) in order to enable a meta-analysis combining different scales, and to facilitate the interpretation of effect sizes. Heterogeneity was assessed using the I(2) statistic. MAIN RESULTS: Three small studies were included (total n = 24). These examined the short-term effect of brief music therapy interventions (daily sessions over one week) for autistic children. Music therapy was superior to "placebo" therapy with respect to verbal and gestural communicative skills (verbal: 2 RCTs, n = 20, SMD 0.36 CI 0.15 to 0.57; gestural: 2 RCTs, n = 20, SMD 0.50 CI 0.22 to 0.79). Effects on behavioural problems were not significant. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The included studies were of limited applicability to clinical practice. However, the findings indicate that music therapy may help children with autistic spectrum disorder to improve their communicative skills. More research is needed to examine whether the effects of music therapy are enduring, and to investigate the effects of music therapy in typical clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)CD004381
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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