Tim Brunson DCH

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The effect of background music and song texts on the emotional understanding of children with autism



The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of background music and song texts to teach emotional understanding to children with autism. Participants were 12 students (mean age 11.5 years) with a primary diagnosis of autism who were attending schools in Japan. Each participant was taught four emotions to decode and encode: happiness, sadness, anger, and fear by the counterbalanced treatment-order. The treatment consisted of the four conditions: (a) no contact control (NCC)--no purposeful teaching of the selected emotion, (b) contact control (CC)--teaching the selected emotion using verbal instructions alone, (c) background music (BM)--teaching the selected emotion by verbal instructions with background music representing the emotion, and singing songs (SS)--teaching the selected emotion by singing specially composed songs about the emotion. Participants were given a pretest and a posttest and received 8 individual sessions between these tests. The results indicated that all participants improved significantly in their understanding of the four selected emotions. Background music was significantly more effective than the other three conditions in improving participants' emotional understanding. The findings suggest that background music can be an effective tool to increase emotional understanding in children with autism, which is crucial to their social interactions.

J Music Ther. 2009 Spring;46(1):15-31. Katagiri J. The Florida State University, USA.

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