Promoting the musical engagement of autistic children in the early years through a program of parental support: an ecological research study

Lisboa, T. and Shaughnessy, C. and Voyajolu, A. and Ockelford, A. (2021) Promoting the musical engagement of autistic children in the early years through a program of parental support: an ecological research study. Music & Science, 4. ISSN 2059-2043 (online)

Abstract

Some autistic children display an intuitive capacity to reproduce and restyle the musical stimuli that they encounter in their environments. Music also offers a safe space for the development of social competencies and, across the spectrum, musical interventions are regarded as an effective way of promoting engagement with others. Yet, there is a lack of empirically researched music programs for parents and carers of children with autism. In this study, 11 families with autistic children incorporated music making into everyday life, supported by researcher-practitioners and framed by resources outlining musical activities based on the Sounds of Intent in the Early Years framework. Assessment of video data and interviews revealed that the new resources were flexible enough to be adapted to each child and they helped parents to build confidence to engage with their children musically. It was found that children had an increased interest and engagement in music as well as in joint play, which impacted positively on their musical and social development. The interpersonal music spaces created by the parents provided opportunities for unlocking expressiveness and interactive behavior, which in turn supported verbal development, emotional regulation and social interaction. These findings have implications for arts-in-health research and highlight the potentially crucial role of parents as mentors for their child’s musical development. The study further demonstrates that specialist musical training is not a requirement to develop parent–child engagement in music making at home.

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