The Effect of a Music Therapy Social Skills Training Program on Improving Social Competence in Children and Adolescents with Social Skills Deficits

Article excerpt

Three separate studies were conducted in school, residential and after-school care settings to test the effectiveness of a music therapy-based social skills intervention program on improving social competence in children and adolescents. A total of 45 children (n = 12; n = 13; n = 20) aged 6-17 years with social skills deficits participated in a group-based five session intervention program. The same curriculum, adapted to be age appropriate, was used at all 3 sites. Specific deficits within the social skills areas of peer relations and self-management skills were targeted. Active interventions like music performance, movement to music and improvisation were used. Cognitive-behavioral techniques like modeling, feedback, transfer training and problem soMng were also incorporated. Data on social functioning were collected before, during, and after the music therapy intervention from participants, appropriate adult personnel and via behavioral observations. Resutts indicated that significant improvements in social functioning were found in (a) school participant pre and post self-ratings, (b) researcher pre and post ratings of school participants, (c) case manager's pre and post treatment ratings for the residential participants, (d) after-school care participants' pre and post self-ratings, and (e) behavioral observations at all three settings. Additional changes, although not significant, were noted in teacher ratings, residential participant self- and peer ratings, and after-school case manager ratings. Results from these studies suggest that the music therapy intervention was effective in improving social competence in children and adolescents with social deficits. More research is warranted to provide additional guidance about the use of music therapy interventions to improve social functioning.

Review of Literature

Social skills are those skills that enable individuals to function competendy at social tasks (Cook, Gresham, Barreras, Thornton, & Crews, 2008). Social skills can be defined as "a complex set of skills that include communication, problem-solving and decision making, assertion, peer and group interaction, and self-management" (KoIb & Hanley-Maxwell, 2003, p. 163). These skills impact academic success, peer and family relationships, employment, and extra-curricular/ leisure activities. In fact, children and adolescents who display academic, social and behavioral deficits are at risk for both short term and long term negative outcomes (Lane et al. 2004) . Research has indicated that children with poor social skills have (a) high incidences of school maladjustment, (b) increased expulsions and/or suspensions from school, (c) high dropout rates, (d) high delinquent rates, (e) high incidences of childhood psychopathology and (f) adult mental health issues (Gresham & Elliot, 1993). Furthermore, longitudinal studies have shown a connection between behavioral and social difficulties and academic achievement as children mature, as well as linked lower social competence in children to increased incidences of depression, conduct problems, anxiety and antisocial behavior (Lane et al., 2004; Rockhill et al., 2008; Spinrad et al., 2005).

In order to be socially competent, individuals must interpret social situations correctly, identify the most appropriate skills to use for the given situation and be motivated to use them (Elksnin & Elksnin, 1995). Social competence is important for a variety of reasons. It can positively impact (a) child development and school readiness, (b) having positive regard for school, and (c) academic achievement (Spinrad, et al., 2005). In fact, research has shown that enhanced social competence can lead to the prevention of many negative outcomes in Ufe (Catalano et al., 2004). Research has also shown that social skills can be taught, with learning most likely to occur when evidence-based programs are utilized (Durlak & Weissberg, 2007).

According to Gresham and Elliot (1993), social skills training involves observation learning, operant learning and classical learning. …