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Using Melodic Intonation to Facilitate Improvement in Language and Communication Skills in Autistic Children

One characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the deficiency in communication skills. Unfortunately, interventions aimed at improving verbal output and/or communication skills are relatively few and have had limited success. However, since autistic children who often respond to music better than spoken language enjoy engaging in music-making, treatment methods that use music-based activities may provide an effective alternative or complement to traditional interventions for facilitating speech. The observation that many autistic children can sing, even when unable to speak, is strikingly similar to the disassociation seen in patients with Broca’s aphasia who can sing the lyrics of a song better than they can speak the same words. Using a rehabilitative technique, Melodic Intonation Therapy, (MIT), that emphasizes the prosodic quality of speech through slow, pitched vocalizations (singing), has led to significant improvement in speech production in such non-fluent aphasic patients. Since singing requires neural coupling of sounds with motor actions (e.g., production of sound (singing/speaking) depends upon the motor action of articulation), it is possible that MIT is capable of specifically engaging a ‘hearing/doing’ network, and thus, may offer an alternative therapeutic option for improving language and communication skills in ASD children. One case report of the effects of MIT on an autistic 3-year old who had made no improvement after 1 year of verbal and sign language treatment, showed that after undergoing an adapted MIT program, he was capable of speaking in 2-word sentences. This project used this music-based speech intervention (MIT) to build upon the musical strengths observed in autistic individuals and facilitate communication skills in children with ASD.