There is a limited amount of low quality research evidence which suggests that music therapy may be helpful in improving communication skills and, to a lesser extent, social skills, in some children and adolescents on the autism spectrum.
The systematic Cochrane review undertaken by Geretsegger et al. (2014) reported “that music therapy may have positive effects on social interaction and communication skills of children with ASD.”
The review went on to report “However, these findings need to be corroborated by future research involving larger samples. ...As only short- to medium-term effects have been examined, it remains unknown how enduring the effects of music therapy on social interaction, communication, and related skills are in the long term.”
There some anecdotal reports from a variety of individuals from a variety of countries.
There is a need for more studies on music therapy with better design and larger samples. There is also a need for studies which examine whether or not music therapy works in real-world settings (such as the home or school), whether music therapy leads to meaningful everyday improvements in social functioning, and whether those effects are long lasting.
According to Geretsegger et al (2014),
“Future research on music therapy for people with ASD will need to pay close attention to sample size and power. Sample sizes in all included studies were small, and test power was only discussed in three studies (Gattino 2011; Kim 2008; Thompson 2012a). Limited sample size remains a common problem in research on interventions for ASD. As there is a lack of studies for older individuals with ASD, research is needed examining effects of music therapy for adolescents and adults with ASD. Furthermore, we recommend that future trials on music therapy in this area should be: (1) pragmatic [work in the real world]; (2) parallel [where different participants are split into different groups, each which receives a different intervention]; (3) conscious of types of music therapy; (4) conscious of relevant outcome measures; and (5) include long-term follow-up assessments.
We agree with these recommendations and also the need to evaluate the impact of music therapy on everyday social functioning.