An updated systematic review and meta-analysis, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, found that music therapy for patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is likely associated with global improvement.
Investigators with the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre in Norway searched publication databases through August 2021 for trials that compared music therapy with usual care or no treatment among patients with ASD. A total of 16 new studies were identified and combined with 10 studies included in a previous analysis.
In the 26 included trials, the total sample size was 1165. Most trials (n=21) recruited children aged 2 to 12 years. The music therapy intervention lasted between 3 days and 8 months.
Immediately after the intervention, at an average of 3.4 months, music therapy was associated with global improvement (risk ratio [RR], 1.22; 95% CI, 1.06-1.40).
In addition, there was moderate evidence to support music therapy for improving quality of life and total autism symptom severity, as quality of life scores were 0.28 SDs higher (95% CI, 0.06-0.49 SDs higher) and total autism symptom scores were 0.83 SDs lower (95% CI, 1.41-0.24 SDs lower) compared with controls.
No clear evidence supported a change in social interaction, nonverbal communication, and verbal communication, although social interaction scores were 0.26 SDs higher (95% CI, 0.05 SDs lower to 0.57 SDs higher), nonverbal communication scores 0.26 SDs higher (95% CI, 0.03 SDs lower to 0.55 SDs higher), verbal communication scores 0.30 SDs higher (95% CI, 0.18 SDs lower to 0.78 SDs higher).
No significant association between music therapy and adverse events was observed (RR, 1.52; 95% CI, 0.39-5.94).
This analysis was limited by the quality of the evidence, in which the global improvement, quality of life, total autism severity, and adverse event evidence was of moderate quality; social interaction and nonverbal communication evidence was of low quality; and verbal communication evidence was of very low quality.
The study authors concluded, “The findings of this updated review provide evidence that music therapy is probably associated with an increased chance of global improvement for autistic people, likely helps them to improve total autism severity and quality of life, and probably does not increase adverse events immediately after the intervention.”
Geretsegger M, Fusar-Poli L, Elefant C , Mössler KA, Vitale G, Gold C. Music therapy for autistic people. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022;5(5):CD004381. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004381.pub4