Parents' Perceptions of Family-Based Group Music Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by impairment in communication, abnormal social interactions, abnormal responses to sensory stimuli, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. While there is no cure for autism, active interventions that include family involvement can bring about positive changes. Music therapy has been recognized as an effective treatment for children with autism spectrum disorders. This study examined parents' perceptions of a 7-week family-based group music therapy intervention. Data were collected through pre-interview sessions with the parents and post-intervention focus group. Parents reported positive responses to the intervention and were able to articulate new insights about themselves and their children.

Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disabilities that profoundly impact children and their caregivers. While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorders, the symptoms or behavior associated with autism can be managed with educational and therapeutic treatments to maximize the potential of the individual. Family involvement is a key component of effective treatment (Bristol, 1997; Randall & Parker, 1999). Music therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for children with autism (Alvin & Warwick, 1994; Berger, 2002; Brown, 1994; Brunk, 1999; Edgerton, 1994; Knoll, 1999; Nordoff & Robbins, 1971; Thaut, 1980; Toigo, 1992). This study investigated parents' perceptions of family-based music therapy services for children aged 4-6 years old with a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disability that affects over one-half million people in the U.S. today. Autism and other pervasive developmental disabilities are neurological disorders that impact brain function and associated behaviors. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) relates that the incidence of autism is 2-6 cases per 1000 individuals. The Chicago Sun-Times (Beaupre, 2000) reported that the incidence in Illinois rose from 1353 cases in 1995 to 3662 cases in 1999 (171% increase). On the national level, the 1995 statistic of 22,664 increased to 53,576 in 1999 (136% increase). Autism is likely to occur more often in boys than in girls, but it is not linked to any specific racial, ethnic, or social group (Autism Society of America [ASA], n.d.).

Autism manifests itself through an array of characteristics including developmental delays, abnormal responses to sensory stimulation, absence or impairment of speech and language, poor social skills, obsessive repetition, and desire for sameness (Gillingham, 1995). The characteristics of autism challenge the individual's ability to communicate and relate to others.

When first described by Kanner, the hallmark characteristic of autism was noted to be the extreme aloneness. Kanner described children who were unable to relate to people and their surroundings in a typical manner (Kanner, 1985). Early treatment models were typically psychodynamic. Writers promoted the belief that the autistic condition was a result of the parents' failure to provide adequate emotional support and nurturing. Bettelheim (1967) coined the term, "refrigerator mother" to describe the mother's lack of emotional connection with the child. With a great deal of research and advancement in technology, autism is no longer thought to result from poor parenting; instead, it is now understood to be a neurological disorder.

The exact causes of autism remain unknown. Current medical research is investigating possible causes such as genetic mutations, viruses, immunizations, and toxic chemials (Cowley, 2000). The prevailing current thought is that autism is composed of many subtypes, each with different etiologies and possible treatments (Freeman, 1997). A clinical diagnosis of autism is based on a set of observable symptoms.

Every child with autism is an individual who presents his or her own unique characteristics. …