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A randomised controlled feasibility trial of music-assisted language telehealth intervention for minimally verbal autistic children-the MAP study protocol

Williams, T., Loucas, T., Sin, J. ORCID: 0000-0003-0590-7165 , Jeremic, M., Aslett, G., Knight, M., Fincham-Majumdar, S. & Liu, F. (2021). A randomised controlled feasibility trial of music-assisted language telehealth intervention for minimally verbal autistic children-the MAP study protocol. Pilot and Feasibility Studies, 7(1), article number 182. doi: 10.1186/s40814-021-00918-9


BACKGROUND: About 30% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) do not develop functional speech and remain non-verbal or minimally verbal even after years of speech, language and educational interventions. A wide range of interventions have been developed for improving communication in ASD, but none have proved effective in eliciting functional language in ASD children. Research has found that people with ASD are more likely to have perfect pitch and prefer music to language. Further, it seems that language delay tends to co-occur with better musical skills. Brain imaging research has found that music alongside words increases the attention that people with ASD pay to spoken words.

METHODS: In this protocol, we describe our music-assisted programmes (MAP) that will use music to attract the attention of people with ASD to speech. MAP may open the brain pathways to language and therefore help improve communication skills for people with ASD more than standard communication protocols. In particular, we aim to develop and test whether individualised, easily used MAP would increase spoken language in 24-60-month-old, nonverbal or minimally verbal children with ASD. We will develop a structured training method, delivered through naturalistic, interactive activities (e.g. songs) to teach language to ASD children. We will test this by comparing two groups: one undertaking music-assisted programmes, and the other receiving speech and language therapy in the way that is recommended in NHS clinics. Participants will be allocated to groups randomly. The feasibility of MAP will be assessed through estimations of recruitment and retention rates, the sensitivity and reliability of the outcome measures, the intensity and frequency of the trial, the usability of the MAP app (beta version), and the burden of the assessments for the children and parents.

DISCUSSION: This feasibility randomised controlled trial will establish the acceptability and estimate the power of the MAP intervention to improve early word learning in children with ASD. In the longer term, this research will help us develop an app for parents or carers of children with ASD to design their own songs and implement their own individualised MAP. TRIAL

REGISTRATION: ISRCTN, ISRCTN12536062 . Registered on 26 June 2019.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Language intervention; Minimally verbal; Music-assisted programmes (MAP); Parent-mediated; Social communication; Telehealth; Treatment-as-usual (TAU)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
R Medicine > RT Nursing
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Nursing
SWORD Depositor:
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