The project proposed here will involve developing curricular materials for music therapy intervention focused on producing significant improvements in social and communication skills among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) under the IDEA program. While Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework informs the development of this proposal, the theory of mind (ToM) and theory of multiple intelligences are also worth considering to the extent that educators of children with ASD may develop effective strategies to improve parent-child relationships through music therapy. Accordingly, the purpose of this proposed project is to determine whether music therapy interventions produce verifiable empirical improvements in social and communication skills. The proposed project is set to take place over the course of a nine-week period and will involve the use of pre-test and post-test designs developed from the Observational Rating Scale of Social and Communication Skills Checklist (ORSSCS). Moreover, the types of interventions developed from secondary data listed as de-identified ORSSCS results have significance for performing a single-subject A-B research design for measuring the empirical impacts of music therapy interventions on improvements in social and communication skills (Hansen et al., 2014). Concerning the relationship between the research problem and the project content, the rationale for conducting this proposed project points to the satisfaction of single-subject design standards developed by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). This section of the proposed project also aims to inform how educators of children with ASD may design instructional materials to promote social change by reducing cognitive and emotional deficits. The implementation plan and evaluation plan described in this section have implications for improving dyadic parent-child relationships along with professional relationships between educators of exceptional students and administrative faculty members (Hammel & Hourigan, 2017; Hourigan, 2016). Subsequently, this proposed project aims to define which pedagogical strategies and best practices educators may use to design effective instructional curricula that also emphasize key similarities and differences between intelligence types in children with ASD.
The rationale for conducting an intervention that involves designing professional development and training curriculum materials reflects the data analysis considerations described in Section 2 of this proposal. Using the ORSSCS, this proposed project involves an establishing of baseline behavioral measures at pre-test that allows educators of children with ASD to collect specific data about each learning. Designing professional developing and training curriculum materials also involves educators of children with ASD monitoring empirical data collected from each student participating in music therapy interventions over a nine-week period.
Concerning the relationship between the research problem and the project content, the rationale for conducting this proposed project points to the satisfaction of single-subject design standards developed by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC; Hansen et al., 2014). When the nine-week music therapy intervention comes to a close, the educators must conduct a post-test assessment to highlight differences in empirical outcomes indicating improvements in social and communication skills among children with ASD. The relationship between the problem and project content is suggestive of how researchers who conducted prior studies identified the individual- and group-level differences in social and communication skills improvements after nine weeks. However, this proposed project entails the analysis of secondary data obtained from the Director of Special Services at Old Bridge Township Public Schools in Matawan, New Jersey, who mandated the use of music therapy to improve social and communication skills in children with ASD.
As described in Section 2, the data collection and analysis procedures employed in this proposed project involve the use of IBM’s Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 25 program to compute individual and aggregate differences between improvements in social and communication skills (such as those in use with feral children) among children with ASD. The data collection and analysis procedures also included visual and graphic presentations of differences in behavioral outcomes produced by direct participation in the nine-week music therapy intervention. Accordingly, this proposed project included data from empirical measurements of baseline (pre-test) and outcome (post-test) results. Any noticeable improvements in social and communication skills received critical attention to the extent that measurements of effect size informed the process of analyzing visual and graphic data presentations. The measurements of improvements in social and communication skills among children with ASD who participated were proportionate to each data point considered greater than the median value. Moreover, the data collection and analysis procedures selected for this proposed project indicate that all improvements in social and communication skills are correlational instead of causal. As suggested by the following review of the extant scholarly literature, the empirical impacts of a nine-week music therapy intervention depend mostly on which theoretical and conceptual frameworks educators of children with ASD apply to foster significant improvements in social and communication skills.
The literature selected for this section of the proposed project draws from efforts to include specific and relevant search terms. Each of the literature search terms is relevant for demonstrating saturation as well as illustrating the relationship between theory and practice. Search terms identified for the purpose of conducting a thorough literature include "music therapy," "music education," "autism," "autism spectrum disorder," "children," "elementary school," "primary school.," "professional development, "curriculum design," "curriculum development," “social skills,” “communication skills,” “cognitive development,” and “pedagogical interventions.” All of the information described in this review of the extant literature is available in scholarly, peer-reviewed, academic journal publications and has specific relevance to the study problem concerning the relationship between music therapy and social/communication skills improvement in children with ASD. As described below, the themes addressed in this review of the literature pertain to differences in theoretical and conceptual frameworks, the pedagogical significance of music therapy interventions in children with ASD, and the empirical impacts of music therapy interventions among children with ASD.
The theory of mind (ToM) lens informs this review of the literature describing how music therapy interventions provide significant benefits to children with ASD. ToM emphasizes the relationship between social interactions and behaviors exhibited by children with ASD while it also draws particular attention to deficits in social and communication skills (Mpella & Evaggelinou, 2018). The ToM lens applies mainly to improving the social and communication skills of high-functioning children with ASD to the extent interventions enhance the comprehension of thoughts and emotions expressed by others. Here, the findings described in the research literature suggest that children with ASD think locally by referring almost exclusively to the self. Kuo, Lin, Kuo, Kuang, and Dai (2016) highlighted, in this regard, ToM is significant for explaining why children with ASD are not successful at emulating the behaviors of individuals without the developmental disorder. The results of their study imply that any pedagogical interventions designed to improve the social and communication skills of children with ASD must reflect key differences between a wide variety of personal interests. While children with ASD are considered “exceptional” insomuch as these individuals must negotiate with cognitive, developmental, and emotional benefits, educators must consider how individualized learning plans also have valuable implications for achieving positive results for an entire group of students (Hourigan, 2016, p. 69). However, the pedagogical interventions designed specifically for exceptional children may only reinforce problems caused by an overemphasis on deficits in social and communication skills.
In concert with the ToM framework, the theory of multiple intelligences provides a foundation for educators in delivering music therapy interventions to children with ASD. Lloyd (2017) drew from the theory of multiple intelligences to argue that most schools emphasize only math and literacy skills as required by standardized tests administered at the state and federal levels. For children with ASD, the area of the research literature indicates that children with ASD may possess high levels of logical, spatial, and naturalistic intelligence but lack sufficient emotional intelligence skills. Similarly, this strand of the research literature illustrates how children with ASD may also lack interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, and bodily-kinesthetic forms of intelligence. Based on the identification of these intelligence deficits, educators interested in designing music therapy curricula must act as advocates for multiple forms of expression. Applying the theory of multiple intelligences in music and arts educations has further significant for improving social and communication skills such by which children with ASD may integrate various forms of learning to promote aesthetic awareness and reduce the negative impacts of any known cognitive deficits.
Along similar lines, nursing researchers applied neuroendocrine theory, resonance theory, and the energy spectrum of music wave theory to describe the underlying mechanisms of music therapy for children with ASD. In describing the underlying mechanisms of music therapy, Shi, Lin, and Xie (2016) noted how acoustic waves act on the limbic system in the brain and, in turn, excite nerve cells located in the brain stem. The complex neuro-limbic relationship between the music and brain functioning suggests that exposure to effective pedagogical interventions designed by educators must focus on improving social and communication skills as well as enhance a sense of participation at the individual and group levels. Educators who encourage children with ASD to engage actively with music-centric learning materials are, therefore, responsible for considering how key differences in brain development inform the empirical effects of pedagogical interventions. In concurrence, Salvador (2015) drew from music learning theory (MLT) to describe how early childhood educators may institute pedagogical interventions including music therapy to foster improvements in social and communication skills. Early childhood educators may draw from MLT to provide children with ASD continued opportunities to engage in structured musical activities. Educators may also encourage improvisation when students have acquired knowledge and skills that align with the theory of multiple intelligences (Salvador, 2015; Lloyd, 2017). However, Salvador (2015) noted further that music therapy interventions developed from an application of MLT may apply to improve social and communication skills in children with varying degrees of ASD at all ages. Most music therapy interventions were, instead, intended to improve cognitive functioning and logical intelligence in children unable to discern musical pitches or maintain a steady rhythm when following along with songs.
More interestingly, researchers who drew from a learning theory-based approach argue that music therapy improves social and communication skills in children with ASD when educators emphasize the relationship between thoughts and behaviors. Cooney and Menezes (2018) found that educators may apply a learning theory-based approach to act as surrogates for parents uncertain of how to provide emotional and mental health support for their children with ASD. This strand of the research literature indicates that parents may conduct detailed investigations into which therapeutic interventions will reduce deficits in social and communication skills and improve behavioral health through treatment (Fansler, 2018; Hammel & Hourigan, 2017; Oliver & Abel, 2017; Webster, Cumming, & Rowland, 2017). However, educators who integrate a learning theory-based approach into pedagogical interventions designed to improve social and communication skills in children with ASD have several opportunities to emphasize how each type of intelligence overlaps (Cooney & Menezes, 2018; Lloyd, 2017). Music therapy interventions, when applied to facilitate cognitive and neurodevelopmental improvements, are also significant for ensuring that children acquire emotional intelligence skills by imitating the emotion-driven behaviors of others. Taken together, each of the theories explains in this section of the literature review inform the processes of designing professional development and training curricular materials to improve empirical learning outcomes in children with ASD.
Several studies highlighting the impacts of music therapy for children with ASD have implications for improving social and cognitive skills in children from culturally marginalized backgrounds. Fansler (2018) reported the benefits of music therapy for children who experienced traumatic events. Trauma responses among children resemble those indicative of ASD to the extent that many parents are uncertain regarding which therapeutic interventions will make their children “feel better” about a difficult situation (p. 2). Music therapy interventions that involved educators placing some degree of emphasis on traumatic experiences also highlight the interrelationship between micro- and meso-systems. Depending on the relationship that children with ASD have with immediate family members, the music therapy interventions designed by educators must follow a systematic approach that considers individual- and group-level differences in outcomes. Similarly, Klein and Kemper (2016) noted how the likeness between music therapy and occupation therapy insomuch as both types of interventions improve social and communication skills when educators emphasize the acquisition of emotional intelligence. The similarities between music therapy and occupational therapy are indicative of the resources available at each learning institution, professional experience, and outcome preferences among immediate family members. However, music therapy differs from occupational therapy when educators emphasize reciprocity in fostering improvements in social and communication skills among children with ASD. This strand of the research literature indicates further that music therapy differs from occupational therapy when educators aim to reduce deficits in dyadic parent-child relationships.
In line with the ToM and multiple intelligences approaches, music therapy interventions are useful for generating improvements in social and communication skills in children with ASD when educators design curricula that emphasizing bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (Lloyd, 2017; Karghand & Pour, 2016). In concert with the study by Klein and Kemper (2016), the study by Karghand and Pour (2016) suggested that the approaches to music therapy interventions developed by educators should also apply to parents based on critical differences regarding improvements in social and communication skills. However, this strand of the research literature also indicates that educators may design instructional curricula that emphasize perceptual-motor learning to foster improvements in therapeutic outcomes. An emphasis on perceptual-motor learning by educators may also foster improvements in mathematical and linguistic intelligence among children with ASD. Yet, educators are still responsible for ensuring that the learning activities included in the instructional curricula align with individual and group-specific needs. Along these lines, Bieleninik et al. (2017) found that successful participation in music therapy interventions by children with ASD must involve educators emphasizing the acquisition of emotional intelligence through meaningful relationships with parents and peers. Yet, the types of interventions adopted by educators of children with ASD may or may not need to include learning modules that facilitate the development of improvisatory musical skills. Music therapy interventions may, in this case, involve a combination of direct parental involvement and guidance counseling to foster improvements in social and communication skills.
The suggestion that music therapy interventions should involve both parental involvement and guidance counseling comes from studies providing analyses of multi-sensory environments (MSEs) on children with ASD. Lee and Li (2016) described how MSEs provide aural and visual stimulation to children with developmental disabilities by encouraging parents, educators, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members with options for identifying key areas associated with improvements in the quality of life. In this research context, MSEs help children with ASD alleviate the emotional and psychological stress that results from social stigmatization of developmental disabilities. Because children with ASD have process aural and visual stimulation differently than children without the set of developmental disabilities, music therapy interventions that involve the use of MSEs are effective to such an extent that parents, educators, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members report long-term empirical evidence of improvements in social and communication skills.
Along with MSEs, innovative technologies including Soundbeam are useful for educators who consider the empirical impacts of music therapy interventions in children with ASD. By defining Soundbeam as an innovative technological device that converts physical movement into sound, Lee (2015) described how children with ASD may benefit from music therapy interventions by using bodily-kinesthetic intelligence to produce various types of aural and visual stimulation. For educators who work with children who have severe forms of ASD, the Soundbeam device facilitates improvements in social and communication skills through the application of a non-invasive method. In line with the theory of multiple intelligences, the emphasis on bodily-kinesthetic intelligence by educators of children with ASD entails that the efficacy of music therapy interventions depends on how well students, parents, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members respond innovative technological devices like Soundbeam. However, some of the research literature includes results suggesting that music therapy interventions involving traditional instruments are equally as effective as those emphasizing individual expression through technological innovation.
Lim, Miller, and Ruiz (2014) noted how the goals and objectives of music therapy interventions in which educators give piano lessons to children with ASD emphasize improvements in social and communication skills. Especially for high-functioning children with ASD, the introduction of piano lessons in music therapy interventions has significance for generating empirical improvements in learning outcomes, behavioral dispositions, and self-esteem. More specific to this project, the researchers also noted how children with ASD may benefit from participating in music interventions with a duration of 10 weeks. However, critical differences in the conditions of music therapy interventions have significant implications for testing the assumptions of educators who emphasize individualized learning outcomes to facilitate improvements in social and communication skills (Hourigan, 2016; Lim et al., 2014). While children with ASD may benefit from using innovative technologies like Soundbeam, this group of students considered “at-risk” by guidance counselors and administrative faculty members may, in effect, encourage educators to emphasize the use of traditional instruments in music therapy interventions (Lee, 2015; Lim et al., 2014, p. 30). More interestingly, this strand of the research literature suggests that no formal musical training is necessary to facilitate improvements in social and communication skills from participating in therapeutic and pedagogical interventions such as dialectical behavior therapy. Despite how children with ASD are at-risk for exhibiting disruptive classroom behaviors considered detrimental to producing satisfactory outcomes in mathematical and language skills, the empirical impacts of music therapy indicate that educators may provide MSEs by designing instructional curricula and emphasizing different types of intelligence observed in classroom settings.
The impacts of music therapy interventions on children with ASD may also entail the integration of peer-mediation to foster long-term improvements in social and communication skills. Mason et al. (2014) observed that peer-mediated social skills groups during recess may provide elementary students with ASD extracurricular activities. Educators and school faculty members including guidance counselors may supervise recess time to focus primarily on fostering improvements in social and communication skills by delivering instructional activities developed from traditional methods or innovative technological devices (Lee, 2015; Mason et al., 2014). However, and more specific to this proposed project, the study by Mason et al. (2014) highlighted key differences baseline/pre-test and post-test measurements of improvements in social and communication skills when children with ASD learn through direct participation during recess time. Based on these results, music therapy interventions facilitate improvements in reciprocal interpersonal interactions when educators emphasize the relationship between individuals and their immediate physical environment.
Likewise, the study by McFadden, Kamps, and Heitzman-Powell (2014) accounted for the importance of peer-mediated recess by introducing several evidence-based measures for improving social and communication skills in children with ASD. Many of the evidence-based pedagogical interventions included in music therapy interventions refer to direct instruction, priming, prompting, contingent reinforcement, and token economies (p. 1707). Each of these interventions is applicable to peer-mediated recess sessions emphasizing improvements in dyadic parent-child and student-peer relationships. Yet, the empirical impacts of peer-mediated music interventions delivered during recess time have implications for generalizing the empirical results to children with varying deficits in social and communication skills. If recess time constitutes one type of pedagogical environments, researchers in special education should consider designing more comprehensive instructional materials to accommodate the needs of students.
Several studies highlight the empirical impacts of music therapy interventions on children with ASD who exhibit varying degrees of social and cognitive functioning between age groups. In conjunction with the broader music education literature, the empirical impacts of music therapy interventions are specific to motor skills development insofar as peer-mediated interventions occur on an individualized basis. Srinivasan et al. (2015) noted how motor skills development in children with ASD correlates strongly with improvements in social and communication skills by which music therapy interventions function as accompaniments to physical education programs. Educators may integrate physical exercises into instructional curricula to facilitate improvements in social and communication skills by also emphasizing the relationship between motor skills development and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (Lee, 2015; Lloyd, 2017; Srinivasan et al., 2015). However, educators are responsible for coordinating music activities with administrative faculty members and guidance counselors to ensure the age-appropriateness of music therapy interventions.
Along these lines, one study describing the empirical impacts of embodied rhythm and robotic interventions highlighted how improvements in social and communication skills among children with ASD reflect pedagogical standards for delivering a ten-week long intervention. Srinivasan, Eigsti, Gifford, and Bhat (2016) conducted pre-test and post-test observations to identify critical improvements on standardized tests among children with ASD. Accordingly, the group of students who participated in the rhythm and robot interventions improved standardized test scores significantly while other forms of movement-based music therapy interventions were promising in enhancing verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Over the course of ten weeks, children with ASD who participated in the different intervention types demonstrated an increased attention span as well as improvements in verbal communication skills. Non-verbal communication skills improved moderately after educators delivered rhythm and robot interventions. As such, this strand of the research literature highlights how educators of children with ASD may hybridize innovative and traditional methods of pedagogical interventions to foster improvements in social and communication skills.
In many ways, the study results by Srinivasan et al. (2016) are similar to those produced by Lee (2015) insomuch as innovative technological devices propelled by the STEM sciences incentivize children with ASD to develop bodily-kinesthetic intelligence from participating in music-based curricular and extra-curricular activities. Empirically, participating in music therapy interventions during regular class hours and during recess improves social and communication skills when educators have the sufficient resources to deliver individualized attention (Lee, 2015; Mason et al., 2014; McFadden et al., 2014). The tools used by educators of children with ASD are, nevertheless, significant for identifying how short-term improvements in social and communication skills have long-term implications for prolonging the length of music therapy interventions. Likewise, researchers in special education continue to demonstrate how evidence-based practices produce results that inform the decision-making processes underpinning how educators of children with ASD deliver music therapy interventions. Camargo et al. (2014) noted how educators may draw from various pedagogical practices that provide evidence for improving the social and communication skills of children with ASD who also exhibit behavioral problems in classroom settings. However, most of the music therapy interventions available to educators must follow an inclusive approach that provides empirical support for producing evidence-based outcomes.
In concert with the study by McFadden et al. (2014), the study by Camargo et al. (2014) includes evidence-based outcomes generalizable to broader populations of students with emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental issues. The suggestion to draw from this strand of the research literature is that music therapy interventions must promote inclusiveness despite concerns about the exceptional status of children with ASD (Camargo et al., 2014; Hammel & Hourigan, 2017; Hourigan, 2016). Yet, this strand of the research literature also indicates that even more evidence-based outcomes are necessary to provide educators of children with ASD the tools and resources for delivering inclusive music therapy interventions in curricular and extra-curricular contexts (Eren, 2016). Furthermore, the empirical outcomes of music therapy interventions indicate that evidence-based practices must encourage educators to address critical behavioral differences between children who improve social and communication skills from receiving instructions in classroom and recess environments (Foley, 2017; Lee, 2015; Mason et al., 2014; McFadden et al., 2014). More specific to this proposed project, the empirical and evidence-based outcomes of music therapy interventions for children with ASD are significant insomuch as the time and effort exercised by educators should also produce improvements in dyadic parent-child relationships and professional relationships with parents, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members. Here, the comparisons of improvements in social and communication skills between experimental and control groups are valuable for identifying which pedagogical strategies and best practices will also improve relationships between educators of children with ASD and key stakeholders.
Especially after the post-test phase, the empirical results of improvements in social and communication skills between comparison groups provide researchers in special education with valuable insights concerning the benefits of music therapy interventions. However, and as noted by Ghasemtabar et al. (2015), educators of children with ASD must identify which methodological weaknesses contribute to limitations in the overall effectiveness of music therapy interventions. While music therapy often facilitates improvements in social and communication skills, educators of children with ASD may not necessarily know which types of cognitive development issues require ongoing attention after the post-test phase. Thus, the research literature evaluated here indicates that educators of children with ASD should consider implementing longer-term music therapy interventions to ensure that key stakeholders—e.g., parents, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members—may directly observe and communicate changes in behaviors and cognitive functioning. In a similar vein, one study examining the short- and medium-term empirical impacts of music therapy interventions indicated significant improvements in social and communication skills when compared to placebo or traditional pedagogical interventions. Geretsegger, Elefant, Mössler, and Gold (2014) noted how even only one week of music therapy intervention may facilitate improvements in social and communication skills when educators of children with ASD encourage parents to identify marked changes in cognitive and behavioral functioning. However, this strand of the research literature also suggests that smaller sample sizes often indicate methodological limitations. Despite these limitations, the empirical outcomes of music therapy interventions illustrate how educators of children with ASD must demonstrate more active involvement in improving dyadic parent-child relationships as well as enhancing the quality of professional relationships with guidance counselors and administrative faculty members. The following project description illustrates further how educators of children with ASD may perform music therapy interventions over a short-period but must ensure that improvements in social and communication skills transfer well between
As indicated in the table below, the project proposed here entails a comparison between an experimental and control group over a nine-week period. Both the experimental and control group will each have six students who received an official ASD diagnosis. Each of the students who participate in the music therapy interventions will complete the ORSSCS pre-test at baseline during the first week of this study. The six students in the experimental group will participate in two 45-minute sessions of music therapy classes during the second and third weeks, while the six remaining students in the control group will participate in traditional classroom interventions. All 12 students in both groups will complete the ORSSCS during the fourth, fifth, and sixth weeks of this proposed project. During the seventh and eight weeks, the students with ASD in the experimental group will participate in 45-minute music therapy sessions while the students in the control group will continue participating in traditional classroom interventions. During the ninth week, all students in both groups will complete the ORSSCS post-test to present results indicating potential differences in the improvements of social and communication skills.
The sources required to complete this proposed project refer to information on the history of music therapy and its empirical impacts on improving social and communication skills in children with ASD. This information will facilitate discussions with parents, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members regarding the utilization of professional development and training curriculum materials in both music therapy and traditional classroom interventions. Along these lines, information communication technologies (ICTs) are necessary for educators of children with ASD and key stakeholders to discuss how innovative and traditional forms of knowledge may improve social and communication skills in children with ASD. Educators and key stakeholders may, therefore, actively participate in professional learning communities to discuss with forms of knowledge confer the most significant short- and long-term improvements through the nine-week course of this project.
For this proposed project, a goals-based evaluation plan will emphasize the type of professional development and training curricula designed to improve the social and communication skills of children with ASD. The main purpose of this evaluation plan is to confirm the results of prior studies and extend empirical contributions to the research literature. Some of the materials professional development and training curricula materials required to fulfill the goals of this project refer to the ORSSCS administered during the pre-test and post-tests phases. The professional development and training curriculum materials will also include comparisons of improvements in social and communication skills among children with ASD who actively participate in music therapy classroom environments (equipped with all genres of music -especially classical) and traditional classroom environments. More specifically, the administration of the ORSSCSS will provide educators of children with ASD several opportunities to discuss which pedagogical strategies and best practices are the most suitable for administration at the individual and group levels.
Over a nine-week period, the goals-based project evaluation plan will involve ongoing discussions with key stakeholders who include parents, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members regarding the benefits of music therapy for children with ASD. Many of the discussions included in this goals-based project evaluation plan will pertain to whether innovative technological devices like Soundbeam or pedagogical methods involving traditional instruments confer more significant short- and long-term improvements in social and communication skills (Lee, 2015; Lim et al., 2014). While educators of children with ASD may have a working template of professional development and training curriculum materials, the discussions pertaining to this goals-based project evaluation plan have significance for ensuring that the target audience and all key stakeholders involved may facilitate improvements in social and communication skills. Accordingly, the goals-based project evaluation plan will emphasize how traditional professional development and training programs may integrate well with innovative methods as described in this review of the extant peer-reviewed scholarly literature.
Goals-based evaluation plans ensure that educators of children with ASD have a solid foundation for building local and global initiatives. Depending on the demographic profile of children with ASD and key stakeholders, educators may develop critical music therapy interventions by identifying empirical trends as reflected in the results of peer-reviewed studies (Kern & Tague, 2017). While some educators may draw from clinical approaches to achieve professional development and training goals, the evaluation plan selected for this proposed project is significant in encouraging key stakeholders to provide feedback for ensuring that children with ASD improve social and communication skills according to individual need. Likewise, the goals-based evaluation plan invites researchers in special education to offer informed opinions concerning the relationship between theory and practice. As the next section illustrates, the positive social change implications of music therapy interventions for improving social and communication skills in children with ASD also have significance for improving the quality of professional relationships with key stakeholders.
The possible social change implications of this project indicate children with ASD who have variations in cognitive and behavioral functioning will likely benefit from participating in music therapy interventions. In turn, neurotypical individuals may perceive high-functioning children with ASD more positively in the short- and long-term. Cook, Ogden, and Winstone (2018) noted in their recent study that both children with ASD and neurotypical children who participate in music therapy interventions demonstrate significant improvements in social and cognitive skills insomuch as both groups of participants decreased perceptions of individual victimization. Accordingly, children who feel victimized by having a developmental or emotional/behavior disorder are not as likely to benefit from participating in music therapy interventions if educators do not acknowledge how entering a pedagogical environment by emphasizing social exclusion will merely reinforce the problem. If educators of children with ASD are to facilitate positive social change through music therapy interventions, the involvement of parents, guidance counselors, and administrative faculty members is necessary to ensure that improvements in social and communication skills ameliorate short- and long-term perceptions of feeling victimized by neurotypical individuals.
Other possible social changes implications of this proposed project indicate how educators of children with ASD may integrate problem-based learning (PBL) strategies in music therapy interventions. Wanamaker (2019) noted more recently how PBL strategies often follow state-mandated requirements to facilitate improvements in classroom behaviors among students with developmental or emotional/behavioral disorders. Accordingly, educators are responsible for collaborating with key stakeholders during the process of designing instructional curricula that integrate music therapy into classroom environments. Educators of children with ASD are also responsible for overcoming personal limitations to professional development. By integrating PBL strategies into pedagogical instruction, educators of children with ASD are less likely to punish “bad” or “problem” behaviors and, instead, attempt to identify the underlying root causes of behavioral and emotional dysregulation (p. 165). Moving forward, educators of children with ASD may integrate PBL into music therapy interventions by encouraging students to express negative emotions in a more constructive manner.
Thirdly, Webster et al. (2017) noted how parents who experience difficulties with raising children with ASD must receive social and emotional support from guidance counselors who can provide more direct insights into observed behavioral issues. Guidance counselors may encourage parents to integrate PBL strategies into daily life by removing the incentives to punish negative behaviors (Wanamaker, 2019; Webster et al., 2017). Similarly, guidance counselors may ensure that parents report all improvements in social and communication skills by providing feedback on how educators should deliver music therapy interventions. Especially if children with ASD and their parents are from culturally marginalized backgrounds, the involvement of guidance counselors may facilitate positive social change by encouraging educators, as well as administrative faculty members, to develop cultural competency skills.
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