This study set out to further develop, strengthen, and test a parent counseling approach in music therapy. Studies show that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) endure a significant amount of stress - not only compared to parents of typically developed children, but also compared to parents of children with other developmental disabilities. One source of increased stress for these parents includes difficulties in communicating with their child; as impairments in communication and social skills are at the core of ASD. Another source for increased stress is the insufficient access to professional help that could provide support to both the child and the parents. This limited access points out the need for a professional mechanism to support the parents with knowledge and strategies to foster better communication between them and their children and help in reducing parental stress level.
The use of music therapy with children with autism has been described in the literature since the 1960s. Only a few approaches in music therapy incorporate parents within music therapy sessions, or offer parent counseling within music therapy perspective. Little has been written about the parents' experience in using music with their children with ASD and in participating in consultation in music therapy.
This mixed-methods study aimed to investigate whether Music-Oriented Parent Counseling (MOPC) positively influenced levels of parental stress, quality of life perception, and use of music in everyday life by parents of children with ASD. In a 2x2 factorial design, thirteen pairs of parents and their children between the ages of four and seven years old were randomized for a five-month intervention to either the minimal form (3 sessions) or the maximal form of MOPC (10 sessions), and their children to either music therapy or control (standard care). All the sessions took place in the researcher's private music therapy practice. A variety of data was collected, including two standardized measures: Questionnaire for Resources and Stress (QRS) and Quality of Life Visual Analogic Scale (QoL VAS), a questionnaire of the daily use of music by parents with their children that was developed and confirmed as assessment within the study: Music in Everyday Life (MEL); these were conducted at baseline and at the end of the intervention. Semi-structured interviews with the participating parents were conducted at the end of the intervention.
The quantitative analyses included repeated measures in the two time points, descriptive statistics, and inferential non-parametric statistics. The descriptive analysis for the QRS showed a relatively better mean difference for the minimal MOPC with a small effect size of 0.82, and the inferential statistics missed significance (p = .39).
There was a significant positive effect (p = .01) in the child's QoL with a strong correlation (r = .69) between this change and the child's participation in music therapy. All the participating parents reportedly extended their use of music with their children. There was a significant positive effect (p = .02) in the daily use of music in routine activities, with a strong correlation (r = .68) between this change and the parents' participation in maximal MOPC.
Findings from the qualitative analysis of the semi-structured interviews' described a variety of improvements in the level of stress, QoL, and the use of music; as well as improvements in the parents' understanding of their child's needs and in feeling contained and supported. Furthermore, parents were able to adapt and implement musical tools to support their child in various daily activities, which improved their parental perception. The changes described by the parents were sorted into three themes that are mutually connected: Learning Experience, Enabling Space, and Music in everyday life.
These outcomes provide preliminary support for MOPC's effectiveness in reducing parental stress level, increasing quality of life perception, and extending the use of music in everyday life.
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