Portraits Giorgia Silani, Christian Gold und Alexander Grössing

Title of the project: "Music for Autism - Effects of music therapy on communication, participation, and functional connectivity in children on the autism spectrum".

Project Team/Partners: Giorgia Silani, Christian Gold and Alexander Grössing (University of Vienna), Karsten Specht and Marianna Ruiz Loira (University of Bergen).

Institute/Department: Institute of Clinical and Health Psychology, University of Vienna and NORCE (Norwegian Research Centre), University of Bergen. Funded by the "Kavli Trust Programme on Health Research".

What is the goal of the project? The project investigates whether music therapy has a positive impact on communication skills of children on the autism spectrum, enables them to participate more in different areas of daily life, and examines the accompanying structural and functional changes in the brain.

Why is this important? Although the prevalence of ASD is only 1%, the impact on individuals, their families, but also the health care system is considerable. Music therapy is a promising form of intervention, but the exact effects, as well as the neural basis, are poorly understood.

Abstract: In recent decades, there has been increasing evidence of the effectiveness of music therapy as an intervention for autism spectrum disorder. However, the exact effects, as well as their neural underpinnings, have remained insufficiently explored. "Music for Autism" is a randomized controlled trial comparing music therapy with play-based control therapy in a crossover design. The sample consists of 80 children, ages 6 to 12, with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. After a therapy duration of 12 weeks each, experimental and control groups will be compared on clinical parameters, functional brain connectivity, and structural differences in gray and white brain matter. With respect to communication skills, participation and accompanying brain changes we expect significant differences between experimental and control group, as well as a reduction of chronic stress measured by hair cortisol concentration.

Explanation - easy to understand: In this study, music therapy is compared to a play-based form of therapy. With regards to communication abilities and participation in everyday life, we expect significantly better results from music therapy. Effects in the brain and stress reduction should also be more pronounced in the music therapy group as compared to the control group.