Music therapy success in redirection of fight-or-flight behaviors in children with ASD

Sent to me from my friends at the Fondazione Mariani in Italy, this small article update caught my eye specifically because of my recent experiences with children with ASD and music. My lower post (My pilot in music and autism: thoughts on empathy, mirroring and rapport) goes into some detail about my experience, but suffice it to say here that I’ve only found time and time again that music proves to be a brilliant ice-breaker and way to put kids at ease, especially when they suffer from some type of social anxiety. Taken from the Journal of Biomusical Engineering,  the following illustrates some recent findings in the world of music and ASD:

Journal of Biomusical Engineering Vol. 2 (2012)
Pilot study investigating the efficacy of tempo-specific rhythm interventions in music-based treatment addressing hyper-arousal, anxiety, system pacing, and redirection of fight-or-flight fear behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Berger DS
The Music Therapy Clinic, Norwalk, CT 06850, USA

Many behaviors in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) resemble fight-or-flight avoidance responses resulting from habitual states of fear, possibly induced by sensory processing issues, causing on-going stress and deregulation of systemic pacing. This study hypothesized that patterned, tempo-based, rhythm interventions, at 60-beats per minute (pbm), can regulate and induce systemic pacing, reduce repetitive anxiety behaviors and enable focus and calm in persons with ASD. Eight-week pilot study investigated the influence of four sensorimotor rhythm interventions for habituation (entrainment) of systemic inner rhythms, pacing, stress, anxiety, and repetitive behavior reduction, ultimately yielding eye-contact, attention, motor planning, and memory. Six subjects (n = 6) ages 8–12, with ASD and minimal expressive language, were treated in 45-minute weekly one-on-one music therapy session, over eight weeks. A rating scale tracked responses and progress in vivo per session, and on video-tape. Lifeshirt heart-monitor vest with embedded wireless sensors, worn by each subject during the first, fifth and eight sessions, tracked heart-rate data. Results support the hypothesis that highly structured rhythmic interventions at a slow tempo can yield levels of systemic pacing, motor planning, visual contact, attention, reduction of anxiety and repetitive behaviors, and functional adaptation.

And for my Italian friends:

I bambini affetti da disordini dello spettro autistico (ASD) mostrano comportamenti di evitamento, causati da uno stress cronico determinato dalla cattiva regolazione del ritmo interiore. Questo studio ipotizza che un intervento di musicoterapia basato su strutture ritmiche a 60 battiti per minuto possa regolare il ritmo interiore del bambino, diminuendo i comportamenti ansiosi e facilitando la concentrazione. È stato effettuato uno studio pilota di 8 settimane per indagare l’influenza di 4 diversi tipi di intervento ritmico per il miglioramento del contatto visivo, dell’attenzione e della memoria. Sei bambini di età compresa tra gli 8 e i 12 anni, affetti da ASD e con scarso linguaggio espressivo, sono stati trattati con sessioni individuali di musicoterapia per 45 minuti alla settimana, per 8 settimane consecutive. I progressi sono stati riportati su una scala e i comportamenti sono stati videoregistrati per una successiva analisi. Il battito cardiaco è stato monitorato nelle sessioni 1, 5 e 8 attraverso una maglietta dotata di sensori wireless. I risultati supportano la tesi che un intervento di musicoterapia prolungata con un tempo lento possa ridurre l’ansia e i comportamenti ripetitivi e migliorare il contatto visivo, la programmazione motoria e l’attenzione.

Krzysztof Penderecki, Jonny Greenwood, Mental Illness and Encephalography

I ran across something rather intriguing the other day, thanks to this friend and music enthusiast. It is a collaboration between two highly respected musicians:  Krzysztof Penderecki and Jonny Greenwood. Imaginative, provocative and innovate as these string arrangements may be, it is in a very small component of the composing process which lies the real fascination for me:

Penderecki’s Polymorphia also had a fascinating birth. The composer played a recording of Threnody for patients with mental illnesses at the Krakow Medical Center while the patients had encephalographs (brain-wave charts) made; he then based Polymorphia‘s musical lines around the shapes on their charts. In his reply to Polymorphia, Greenwood takes up that big, glorious and triumphant C Major chord — and then shatters that harmonic glow into smithereens. He begins with a strangely Bach-reminiscent chorale (“Es Ist Genug,” or “It Is Enough,” which is also the name of a famous Bach chorale) that Greenwood then distorts and dissolves over and over again. He builds tension and lets it drain away, takes up an idea and then lets it go in swirling eddies of motion.

The original article on NPR may be found here.

Channeling Emotional Intensity in the Creative Artist

Thanks to Cheryl Arutt for one of the best, most easily accessible articles I’ve seen on channeling pain in the artist, including some brief (albeit great) insight into the chemical process that stimulates fight-or-flight syndrome. Find it here.