Do communication disorders extend to musical messages? An answer from children with hearing loss or autism spectrum disorders

Christina M. Whipple, Kate Gfeller, Virginia Driscoll, Jacob Oleson, Karla McGregor

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    15 Scopus citations


    Background: Effective musical communication requires conveyance of the intended message in a manner perceptible to the receiver. Communication disorders that impair transmitting or decoding of structural features of music (e.g., pitch, timbre) and/or symbolic representation may result in atypical musical communication, which can have a negative impact on music therapy interventions. Objective: This study compared recognition of symbolic representation of emotions or movements in music by two groups of children with different communicative characteristics: severe to profound hearing loss (using cochlear implants [CI]) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Their responses were compared to those of children with typical-development and normal hearing (TD-NH). Accuracy was examined as a function of communicative status, emotional or movement category, and individual characteristics. Methods: Participants listened to recorded musical excerpts conveying emotions or movements and matched them with labels. Measures relevant to auditory and/or language function were also gathered. Results: There was no significant difference between the ASD and TD-NH groups in identification of musical emotions or movements. However, the CI group was significantly less accurate than the other two groups in identification of both emotions and movements. Mixed effects logistic regression revealed different patterns of accuracy for specific emotions as a function of group. Conclusion: Conveyance of emotions or movements through music may be decoded differently by persons with different types of communication disorders. Because music is the primary therapeutic tool in music therapy sessions, clinicians should consider these differential abilities when selecting music for clinical interventions focusing on emotions or movement.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)78-116
    Number of pages39
    JournalJournal of Music Therapy
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


    • Autism
    • Cochlear implant
    • Emotion
    • Movement
    • Music recognition

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Complementary and Manual Therapy
    • Music


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