About the project
Outcome predictors in autism research has to date focused on a high therapy intensity rather than on the quality of the relationship between child and therapist. The aim of this project is to examine whether the therapeutic relationship predicts generalised changes in autism spectrum behavioural traits.
Early childhood experiences of shared emotions are important in the development of social interaction skills. Children with ASD show severe difficulties in co-ordinating sensory perceptions and processing them meaningfully which is a precondition for being able to relate to oneself and others. Considering the core symptoms of ASD music therapy research suggests that the quality of the relationship between child and therapist serves as crucial mechanism of change.
An international multicenter process-outcome study will be carried out including 150 children (4 to 7 years) diagnosed with ASD. They will be randomised to low (once a week) or high (thrice weekly) intensity music therapy treatment over five months. A standardised instrument for assessing the quality of the relationship in music therapy (AQR) and standardised observation scales (ADOS, SRS) for assessing changes in outcomes will be used. Associations between predictor and outcomes will be calculated using linear models with repeated measures. Findings of this project will broaden the understanding of mechanisms of change in autism treatment.
The overall aim of this project is to investigate the impact of the quality of the therapeutic relationship in the treatment of children with ASD. The project will examine a) whether the quality of the relationship in music therapy with children with ASD predicts generalised changes in autism spectrum traits, i.e. impaired social interaction and communication skills, and b) whether the number of music therapy sessions is associated with the quality of the therapeutic relationship. Collaboration with regional and international institutions will contribute to an improvement of interdisciplinary competence and network-building in the field of music therapy and autism.
This project aims to strengthen clinical research on children with autism and to further improve current treatment approaches in music therapy and in other professions. It will be the first international predictor study that is sufficiently powered to investigate the impact of the therapeutic relationship in autism. Positive findings that support the therapeutic relationship as decisive mechanism of change might indicate reconsidering cost-intensive concepts of prescribing many sessions as often applied in autism treatment. On this background, this project provides relevant future implications both for health care services and users.