Athina Stamou et al, “The Effectiveness of a Music and Dance Program on the Task Engagement and Inclusion of Young Pupils on the Autism Spectrum,” Music & Science 2 (2019): 2059204319881852.
This study explored whether music and dance can promote the inclusion of children with autism attending mainstream schools through participation in a novel music and dance program. The researchers used engagement on task and physical proximity as proxy measures of inclusion.
- Students with autism were more engaged when the task involved music and more included in the group when taking part in music and dance activities.
- Students with autism participated the most during music-based tasks and were less engaged during language-based tasks (story-language based tasks/transitions).
- Typically, students were focused on tasks and included in the group for the longest periods of time during music, dance and combined tasks and less during other language-based tasks.
- During music tasks, students with autism were as equally engaged as their peers without autism.
- When dance was accompanied by music, the researchers found an increase in engagement on task and more physical contact and proximity between students.
- Language-based tasks were a barrier to participation.
Significance of the Findings:
Throughout the intervention, researchers found that music was the most motivating and engaging task for students with autism. The findings offer suggestive evidence that music and dance can enhance the engagement on task and social inclusion of students with autism and their peers without autism. Music and dance can complement storytelling and literacy lessons and promote understanding of verbal language. They can also enhance engagement and motivation of students in activities related to books and stories.
Forty-two students between five and eight years old participated in the study, which was carried out in five mainstream schools in London, England. The study included seven groups of six students, with 21 male and 21 female students total. Seven students with autism participated.
The author of the first study designed and delivered an original intervention program. The program consisted of an original story, and music and dance activities were designed specifically for the study. The program was delivered over six 30-minute sessions, which were video recorded. The recordings provided the main body of comparison and analysis, and primarily focused on the degree of participation on task and that of physical proximity.
In order to record whether students were on task or off task, and in physical proximity/contact or away from the group, each session was divided into 10-second periods, and each student’s main behavior was coded. The scores for engagement of task and inclusion per task and session for all students were then inserted into a statistical software package. A second rater gave ratings for a randomly selected session to ensure reliability.
Limitations of the Research:
- Small sample of participants. (Forty-two students, including seven students with autism.)
- Only one practitioner delivered the intervention. This may have influenced the effectiveness of the program. Having more than one adult leading the program, and preferably of a different professional background, could provide firm results of the effectiveness of music and movement for young students with autism.
Questions to Guide New Research:
- Can the program be replicated by a class teacher with a small group of students?
- Can elements of the program and specific music and dance tasks be used to complement storytelling in whole class learning in mainstream schools?
- Would the program have similar outcomes in a special education school?
- Can an adapted program be implemented with younger or older students?