Current research projects at the Center investigate the effects of Nordoff-Robbins music therapy on the communication and social interaction abilities of young children with developmental delays, particularly autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Communication and social interaction, which are among the core areas of difficulty in ASD, may be cultivated through the medium of music with its range and depth of expressive qualities and dynamic form. Our research involves three major components: 1) development of a manual and training protocol for the implementation of Nordoff-Robbins music therapy in early childhood special education and early intervention settings, 2) development and validation of observation instruments for studying children’s communication and social interaction, and for studying therapists’ intervention strategies, and 3) implementation of efficacy studies. Development of a Treatment Manual Although Nordoff-Robbins music therapy has become internationally renowned in the fifty years since the initial collaboration of Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins, it has yet to undergo the process of “manualization” for treatment of a target population. Our manualization project entails developing a curriculum and procedures for training music therapists to implement Nordoff-Robbins music therapy in special-needs preschools, drawing upon published NordoffRobbins materials and the long-standing advanced training program at the Center. Creating a curriculum that can be systematically implemented is an essential step toward quantitatively investigating the effects of music therapy, and ultimately toward making evidencebased music therapy services widely available to young children with ASD and other developmental delays. We plan to undertake a three-year project of manualization. In the first year of the project, we will develop relationships with six preschools providing special education and early intervention services in the New York City metropolitan area. We will conduct a needs assessment and program feasibility study to design a program that optimally complements and supports the existing educational and therapeutic services at each school. During the latter half of the year, senior members of the Nordoff-Robbins staff will begin providing music therapy at the schools. Preliminary versions of a curriculum and fidelity of implementation measure will be created through an iterative process involving review of existing Nordoff-Robbins case studies and training materials, incorporation of treatment goals and program specifications generated by the needs assessment and feasibility study, and observation of senior Nordoff-Robbins music therapists at the schools. The curriculum will be organized in terms of goals and intervention strategies for developing children’s communication and social interaction abilities at different stages of therapy.
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In the second year, the curriculum and fidelity of implementation measure will be field tested with a group of music therapists who have no prior training in the NordoffRobbins approach. This group will be trained via the curriculum to provide music therapy at participating schools. They will receive ongoing supervision by the senior NordoffRobbins therapists, and their videotaped sessions will be monitored using the fidelity of implementation measure. The curriculum and fidelity measure will be iteratively revised during the second year on the basis of trainees' performance at different stages in the course of therapy. In the third and final year of the project, the revised curriculum and fidelity measure will be used in training a new group of music therapists at participating schools. A pilot study will be conducted at the schools to investigate effects of the music therapy program on children’s communication and social interaction skills, both in music therapy sessions and in the classroom. The curriculum and fidelity measure will be revised during the third year based on findings of the pilot study. The materials and procedures resulting from this manualization project can be subsequently adapted for implementation in diverse settings, including medical facilities and community mental health centers, thereby expanding the scope of Nordoff-Robbins clinical practice and research. Development of Measurement Instruments Music Therapy Communication and Social Interaction Scale The Music Therapy Communication and Social Interaction Scale (MTCSI—HummelRossi et al., 2008) has been developed at the Nordoff-Robbins Center to rate children’s communication and social interaction behaviors as observed during music therapy sessions. Coding requires close analysis of videotaped sessions, with categories including children's simultaneous participation in musical or other expressive activity with the therapists or peers; turntaking; reciprocal verbal exchange and reciprocal musical exchange; communication of affect via facial expression, gesture, movement, and touch; and other indicators of children’s response to or initiation of communication and interaction. Created by an interdisciplinary research team of psychologists and music therapists at the Center, the MTCSI is intended for use by trained observers from various disciplines, including creative arts therapists, psychologists, educators, and speech, occupational, and physical therapists. Therapist Intervention Strategy Assessment In the manualization project described above, we will create an instrument to measure fidelity of implementation of the curriculum: the Therapist Intervention Strategy Assessment (TISA). Over the three-year course of the project, the TISA will be progressively refined on the basis of detailed study of
Additional early childhood music therapy resources available at www.imagine.musictherapy.biz.