A joint behavioral and emotive analysis of synchrony in music therapy of children with autism spectrum disorders
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Observation, Diagnosis and Education Laboratory, Psychology and Cognitive Sciences Department, University of Trento, Italy
IRCCS Stella Maris Foundation, Pisa, Italy
University of Pisa, Italy
Submission date: 2016-07-27
Final revision date: 2016-11-03
Acceptance date: 2016-11-10
Online publication date: 2016-12-13
Publication date: 2016-12-14
Health Psychology Report 2017;5(2):162-172
Synchrony is an essential component of interactive exchanges. In mother-infant interaction, synchrony underlies reciprocity and emotive regulation. A severe lack of synchrony is indeed a core issue within the communication and interaction deficit that characterizes autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in accordance with the DSM-5 classification. Based on emerging evidence that music therapy can improve the communication and regulation ability in children with ASD, we aim to verify quantitatively whether: 1) children with ASD improve synchrony with their therapist during music therapy sessions, and 2) this ability persists in different structured contexts.

Participants and procedure
Twenty-five children, aged from 4 to 6 years (M = 57.80, SD = 16.70), with an autistic disorder diagnosis based on DSM IV-TR and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), participated in the study. An observational tool for coding behaviors and emotive states of synchrony (Child Behavioral and Emotional status Code [CBEC] and Adult Behavioral and Emotional status Code [ABEC]) was applied in video recorded sessions of improvisational music therapy (IMT) for the subject-therapist pair. For each subject, we considered the 20 central minutes of the first, tenth and twentieth session of IMT. To verify the persistence of effect in a different context with a different adult, we administered and coded the interactive ADOS section (anticipation of a routine with objects) applied after session 20 of therapy.

During the IMT cycle, the amount of synchronic activity increases, with a significant difference from Session 1 to Session 20 in behavioral synchrony and emotional attunement. Also, the increase of synchrony is confirmed at the end of the therapy cycle as measured by an interactive ADOS section.

Synchrony is an effective indicator of efficacy for music therapy in children with ASD, in particular to evaluate the expansion of positive emotive exchanges.
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