FRIDAY, Nov. 23, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- When a child with autism can play the piano or sing a song, their brains may benefit, new research suggests.
Music therapy increased connectivity in key brain networks, according to the researchers. Not only that, the sessions improved social communication skills and quality of life for the patient's family.
"The universal appeal of music makes it globally applicable and can be implemented with relatively few resources on a large scale in multiple settings such as home and school," said study co-senior author Aparna Nadig. She is an associate professor in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University in Montreal.
The study included 51 children with autism, aged 6 to 12, who were randomly assigned to either a music therapy group or a control group.
Children in the music group did 45-minute sessions in which they sang, played different instruments and worked with a therapist to engage in interaction. The children in the control group worked with the same therapist on interactive play, but no musical activities.
After three months, parents of children in the music group reported greater improvements in their children's communication skills and family quality of life, compared with parents of children in the control group.
Parents of children in both groups did not report reductions in autism severity.
Brain scans revealed that the children in the music group had increased connectivity between auditory and motor regions of the brain. They also had decreased connectivity between auditory and visual regions, which are often overconnected in people with autism, the authors said.
The findings were published recently in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
"These findings are exciting and hold much promise for autism intervention," lead author Megha Sharda, a postdoctoral fellow at the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound at the University of Montreal, said in a university news release.
But further research is needed, the study authors noted.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on autism.