Q: How can music therapists use music to enhance existing verbal skills?

Music Therapists’ Perceptions of the Therapeutic Potentials Using Music When Working with Verbal Children on the Autism Spectrum: A Qualitative Analysis

In response to a noted research gap on the therapeutic use of music with children with autism who communicate verbally, researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel and University of Melbourne in Australia explored how music therapists use and perceive the role of music when working with children with existing verbal skills. In a summary of related research, authors highlighted how singing and instrument play experiences facilitated by music therapists can foster communicative interactions. Epstein et al. (2020) conducted 6 in-depth interviews of music therapists working with children with autism who communicated verbally at the start of sessions. All therapists interviewed had at least 4 years of clinical experience and up to 18 years. Researchers utilized an interview analysis method which helps identify response similarities, while also emphasizing individual therapist contributions and described experiences. Study outcomes from Epstein et al. (2020) revealed three themes across interview responses: Those relating to musical infrastructure, or the use of music elements to support body and emotional regulation, those relating to the use of music experiences to support imaginative play alongside verbal skills, and those relating to musical interactions. Music therapists reported frequently incorporating adapted songs, improvisational music production, and adjustments in pitch, dynamic, and/or speed to singing, vocalizing, and instrument play. Music therapists reported perceiving the individualized music to assist children with emotional and body regulation, to foster smoother transitions between interventions, to create shared interpersonal experiences, to help increase and organize children’s verbal expressions, to connect children’s play to other occurrences in the session, and to match children’s musical and nonmusical contributions.


Epstein, S., Elefant, C., & Thompson, G. (2020). Music therapists’ perceptions of the therapeutic potentials using music when working with verbal children on the autism spectrum: A qualitative analysis. Journal of Music Therapy, 57(1), 66-90. doi: 10.1093/jmt/thz017