Effectiveness of a filtered music listening programme to improve communication, social abilities, and behaviours in children with autistic spectrum condition: a randomised, controlled trial
Lawrence, Dorothy Kay
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The current diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) rate abnormal sensory sensitivities as being both prevalent and useful in distinguishing ASC at an early age (DSM-5). Parents of children with ASC have often reported that their child’s strong sensory reactions can interfere with learning and are disruptive to family life. Filtered music listening programme creators have claimed the programmes “re-educate” the auditory pathway so that sensory overreactions to sound are gradually diminished. The present study was designed to test the effectiveness of a particular filtered music programme, The Listening Programme (TLP), which in trials has been found to reduce abnormal sensory reactions and associated behaviours, and improve communication and social abilities. Sixty-three children aged 4-8 with ASC were recruited for a partial double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Children were randomly assigned to an experimental group, an active control group (unfiltered music listening), or a passive control group (no intervention). Forty-four children, 15 in each music listening group and 14 in the passive control group, completed all 20 weeks of the study. Children were assessed using the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist and assessments measuring autism symptom severity and parental stress. Data were analysed using ANOVAs, ANCOVA’s, and supplemented by a visual review of Case Summaries. Between-group differences were not found to be significant at 20 weeks, for Communication but were significant for Social Abilities and Behaviours. At a 40 week follow-up, changes had maintained for the experimental listening group., without any listening for 20 weeks. In comparing mean scores of each group, the active control group, the programme using unfiltered music was consistently less than the experimental group but greater than the control group with no intervention. The results were as predicted, as music listening is used as a distraction and also as a calming tool by many people. The consistent pattern suggests that the filtered music programme did play a role in improvement greater than music alone. Reported improvements were greatest in areas of sociability, more flexible behaviour, and in physical issues such as continence. Parents in both music listening groups also reported significant stress reduction after the 20-week intervention. Children exhibiting more severe symptoms prior to the intervention appeared to improve most from the music listening. Those children who showed improvement did not necessarily improve in all three areas, consistent with the complexity of sensory sensitivities exhibited in autism. Future research should attempt to more clearly define best responders and utilize assessments that accurately assess sensory reactions and expected outcomes.