Here’s a great review by Lee Wilkinson summarizing a research study on improvisational music therapy with autism published in Autism:
According to the authors, “The temporal structure of music and the specific use of musical attunement in improvisational music therapy suggests that we can help children with autism experience and develop affective skills in a social context.” Creating music relates to the child’s expression, interest and focus of attention may evoke responses from the child to a therapist creating such relational music for them. Moreover, improvising music together is an emotionally engaging process. Music can be an attractive medium, allowing the child his/her own space and the choice of objects, at the same time engaging the child with different objects of the therapist’s choice.
[R]esults of this exploratory study found significant evidence supporting the value of music therapy in promoting social, emotional and motivational development in children with autism. The findings highlight the importance of social-motivational aspects of musical interaction between the child and the therapist, the therapeutic potential of such aspects in improvisational music therapy, and the relative value of less directed and more child centered approaches for children with autism. The authors conclude, “Both previous and the current study indicate that we should use music within the child’s focus of attention, behavioral cue and interests, whether it is improvised or precomposed.”
Original source: autism
Kim, J., Wigram, T., & Gold, C. (2009) Emotional, motivational and interpersonal responsiveness of children with autism in improvisational music therapy. autism, Vol. 13 (4) 389-409. Retrieved from: http://aut.sagepub.com/content/13/4/389.full.pdf+html