Improvisational music therapy is known to promote social engagement in children with autism.
This study investigated salient features that characterize the engagement of the child with autism
and the therapist in improvisational music therapy. Through video analysis of the children’s
behavior, this study sets out to investigate what engages children with autism into mutual play
with the therapist in improvisational music therapy by measuring the shared musical elements
between the child and the therapist during musical synchronicity episodes and the children’s
choice of instruments. A repeated measures, a crossover design was employed in two different
conditions (n = 10). Children were randomly assigned into two groups; group 1 participated music
therapy first, followed by play therapy second. Group 2 followed the reverse order. Specific target
behaviors were analyzed in the selected sessions 1, 4, 8 and 12. As expected, improvisational
music therapy produced markedly more and longer events of musical synchronicity in children
with autism than the play sessions with toys (p < .001). Rhythm and dynamic appeared to be
the two most salient elements during musical synchronicity events between the child and the
therapist. Observational findings confirmed that horns and whistles were the most frequently
selected instruments in music therapy, whereas a dollhouse set was in play therapy by children
with autism. The clinical implications and the details of these findings are discussed further.