According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one out of 68 children have been identified as suffering from some form of autism spectrum disorder. Cases vary from mild and highly functioning to severe and debilitating. Autism presents two main characteristics: (1) repetitive and limited patterns of behavior and (2) an inability to communicate and engage in social interaction.
Since the identification of autism, the medical community has struggled to come up with strategies to help sufferers of the disease lead as normal a life as possible. Many new art-based therapies have offered promise though, and evidence seems to confirm that music has a profound effect on children with autism and can play a critical role in producing behavioral changes in the patient.
Dr. Grace Thompson has been working with special needs kids for decades. Her music therapy has succeeded in opening stunning doors of communications for patients. Playing her guitar, she gently brings child sufferers of autism into the present world, enabling them to take an interest in their surroundings and interact with the people around them. Once they have awakened to the world, Dr. Thompson is able to continue to use her music to take patients through to the next step of communicating with others.
As a lecturer at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Dr. Thompson has been conducting research into autism spectrum disorder and developing practices that empower families to assist their children. Now she is the the site manager for the largest international clinical trial that will investigate the impact of improvised music therapy on young people with autism. The Trial of Improvisational Music Therapy’s Effectiveness for children with autism (TIME-A) will be the first controlled, random, non-pharmaceutical study on the effectiveness of music therapy for autism. It is an international study hosted by the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre and is funded by the Research Council of Norway. It will include a total of 300 children, focusing on the main symptoms of autism and the impact, if any, that music therapy has in improving communication skills.
Dr. Thompson is very excited not only about the trial, but also for the future, as she sees increasing numbers of students pursuing Master’s degrees in music therapy and developing the skills they need to be music therapists for children with autism.