Music Therapy Autism Literature Review

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Individuals with autism show equal or increased abilities in pitch processing, labeling of emotions in music, and musical preference when compared to typically‐developing peers. The most compelling evidence supporting the clinical benefits of music therapy lies in the areas of social‐emotional responsiveness and communication including increased compliance, reduced anxiety, increase speech output, decreased vocal stereotypy, receptive labeling, and increased interaction with peers. Preliminary findings also support the potential for music to assist in the learning of daily routines.


1. Bennett, E., & Heaton, P. (2012). Is talent in autism spectrum disorders associated with a
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9. Heaton, P. (2003). Pitch memory, labeling and disembedding in autism. Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, 44(4), 543‐51. Pitch memory and labeling is superior in autism and can facilitate performance on musical disembedding tasks.

10. Heaton, P. (2009). Assessing musical skills in autistic children who are not savants. Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1522), 1443‐7. Data from empirical studies show that many children with autism possess musical potential that can and should be developed. Musically untrained individuals with ASD have revealed a pattern of musical abilities that are either enhanced or spared compared to other areas of functioning.

11. Heaton, P., Williams, K., Cummins, O., & Happe, F. (2008). Autism and pitch processing splinter skills: a group and subgroup analysis. Autism, 12(2), 203‐19. Compared with comparison participants, a subgroup of individuals with autism achieved performance scores in pitch discrimination and pitch memory that were 4‐5 standard deviations above the mean for the groups.

12. Lai, G., Pantazatos, S., Schneider, H., & Hirsch, J. (2012). Neural systems for speech and song in autism. Brain, 135(Pt 3), 961‐75. Findings indicate that in low functioning individuals with autism, functional systems that process speech and song were more
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