Use of Music in the Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior Approach for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

By Lim, Hayoung A. | Music Therapy Perspectives, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Use of Music in the Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior Approach for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders


Lim, Hayoung A., Music Therapy Perspectives


Communication deficits are among the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD); therefore, the development of communication skills is critical to treat this syndrome as early as possible (Paul, 2008). Communication difficulties typically are compounded by significant impairments in social interaction and appropriate behaviors. Researchers state that children may use aberrant behaviors for communication purposes when they lack the appropriate skills to communicate (Chung, Jenner, Charberlain, & Corbett, 1995; Sigafoos, 2000). To address both the communication and behavioral needs of children with ASD, researchers and practitioners have investigated numerous interventions and treatment approaches (Mancil, Conry & Haydon, 2009; Koegel, 2000; Paul & Sutherland, 2005). Interventions or treatment approaches for enhancing social communication abilities for children with ASD vary greatly; they range in a continuum from traditional discrete trials to more contemporary behavioral approaches that utilize naturalistic language teaching techniques to developmental approaches (Goldstein, 2002; Paul & Sutherland, 2005; Wetherby & Woods, 2008).

The National Research Council Committee (NRC) (2001) recommended that educational approaches should address the core deficits faced by children with ASD and that meaningful outcome measures must address two areas: (1) gains in initiation of spontaneous communication in functional activities; and (2) generalization of gains across activities, interactions (adult and peer), and environments. The NRC also identified six instructional priorities which include (1) functional, spontaneous communication; (2) social instruction in various settings; (3) teaching of play skills focusing on appropriate use of toys and play with peers; (4) instruction leading to generalization and maintenance of cognitive goals in natural contexts; (5) positive approaches to address problems behaviors; and (6) functional academic skills when appropriate (NRC, 2001; Prizant & Wetherby, 2005). Collectively, social communication and functional language abilities are regarded as the most critical areas to address in supporting the development of individuals with ASD. It is also critical to develop and implement effective interventions which fulfill the instructional priorities of each individual with ASD (Koegel, 2000; Prizant & Wetherby, 2005).

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is based on strong and coherent science and extensive empirical research that is the basis for the technologies and procedures used with individuals with ASD. The application of ABA technologies for language training is commonly called verbal behavior (VB). ABA VB has contributed substantially to the treatment of children with autism by gains and results from B. F. Skinner's analysis of language in verbal behavior. Behavior analysis in general, and particularly Skinner's analysis of verbal behavior, has provided a solid methodology based on a large body of empirical research for language assessment and training programs for children with autism (Paul & Sutherland, 2005; Sturmey & Fitzer, 2007).

Music has been commonly used in autism treatment as a behavioral and developmental method because it can be interesting and motivating, and it can promote attention, active participation, and verbal and nonverbal responses (Adamek, Thaut, & Furman, 2008; Brownell, 2002; Buday, 1995; Hoskins, 1998). A number of researchers have examined the effect of music therapy interventions on cognition, communication, social, and sensory development of children with autism (Brownell, 2002; Buday, 1995; Hoskins, 1988; Kaplan & Steele 2005; Lim, 2010; Thaut, 1999; Whipple, 2004). As a result, music therapy appears to be an effective approach to address a variety of purposes and symptoms in the treatment of autism including language and communication skills, social skills, cognitive skills, and behavioral skills. Whipple (2004) found that all types of music intervention, including singing, background music, social stories set to music, and directions following in music, have been effective for children and adolescents with autism. …

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