The Effects of Structured Musical Activity Sessions on the Development of a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Case Study – Paige Rose & Karyna Johnson

Volume 6 (2) 2014 – Article

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The Effects of Structured Musical Activity Sessions on the Development of a Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Case Study

Paige Rose & Karyna Johnson



This case study sought to discover the effects of structured music activity sessions on eye contact and communication skills of Hunter; a six year old, high functioning child with autism. The research design consisted of two baseline observations in music class, six biweekly home activity sessions concurrent with three weekly music class observations, and two final music class observations. Activity sessions lasted approximately thirty minutes, and consisted of seven different activities, which were designed to increase joint attention through verbal, emotional, and social communication skills, as well as eye contact.

Sessions were video recorded, and data analysis showed that Hunter’s eye contact increased from 76% in the first session to a high of 91% by the fifth activity session. Eye contact during the dedicated discussion activities increased from 21% in the first session to 46% by the sixth session. Observations and parent/teacher questionnaires revealed that he demonstrated higher levels of social functioning and both emotional and musical expression (including improvisation) following activity sessions. Hunter transferred verbal communication, facial gestures and social cues from his sessions to music classes. In his concert following the fifth session, Hunter made contextually appropriate verbal improvisations and improved singing and movement synchronisation with the music.


autism; music; eye contact; communication; improvisation; joint attention


Dr Paige Rose is Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Central Arkansas, and teaches elementary methods, instrumental methods, music technology, and internship and graduate courses. She earned a PhD from Louisiana State University and is an Orff certified teacher. Her presentations and research interests include relationships between music and motor skills and technology and interactive learning in music. Her writings have appeared in Bulletin for the Council of Research in Music Education and Update: Applications of Research in Music Education. She co-directs the Central Arkansas Children’s Choir and is president of the Arkansas Music Educators Association.



Karyna Johnson is currently the music specialist at Munroe Elementary School in the Denver, Colorado Public Schools. She was previously at Valdez Middle School where she taught music, band, and keyboard with her own unique approaches to improvisation and interaction. While there, she was named a “Mile High Teacher”, an award for Denver’s most accomplished and inspiring educators. Johnson graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in 2008 with a degree in music education. She was also a graduate of the honours college and received a Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship to initiate her research interest of music and autism.