This article describes the experimental process designed to determine the comparative efficacy of music therapy treatment and the standard Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Approach (ABA VA) to speech development in preschool-aged children ages 3-5 diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and present echolalia in their speech. Targeted areas of communication were mand, tact, echoic, and intraverbal. Mand communication refers to the functional use of language to communicate a need or desire, e.g. when given a choice between two options (fast or slow). Tact refers to the ability to use language to identify or describe an object. This skill would allow a child to identify a picture as a “pink pig” or a “brown bear.” Echoic communication is merely the imitation of a word or combination of words, which is useful in certain social interactions, such as when responding to a greeting (e.g. “good morning). Intraverbal involves the functional and independent use of a term which suggests a comprehension of its meaning and is dependent on verbal stimuli. For example, when presented with a choice of words, a child with functional intraverbal communication would be able to finish the sentence, “She is my best___” with the word “friend” rather than “doctor.” Twenty-two subjects who were assessed to have echolalia were offered both treatments, randomly selected to determine which intervention they would first receive to provide the assumption that this factor would not contribute to the outcome. The treatment processes were each three-week courses with two sessions per week, amounting to a total of 6 treatment sessions with each approach. Results based on pretest and post-test comparisons indicate that both treatments are equally effective, though also highly dependent on the presence of echolalia as a baseline for functional speech that can be shaped and developed. Thus, in this respect, music therapy can be recommended as a supportive means of improving communication skills in children with autism for ABA-VA interventions.
Since both were group-interventions, it is possible that the results could differ in a private setting, wherein music therapy might be the preferred method, as it is more engaging without the presence of other students to interact. At the same time, this may not make a difference in many cases, given the social disconnect that is sometimes manifest in those on the spectrum. The methodological approach applied to both interventions would be a useful model for speech and music therapists to utilize in collaboration.