Dr. Alan Turry, Managing Director of the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, was an invited speaker at the Autism and Music Therapy International High-Level Congress in Corsica, France. At this conference, which took place October 25-26, 2013, Dr. Turry spoke about the effectiveness of the Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy in improving social interaction and communication and supporting healthy brain development.
Dr. Turry presented a case study illustrating how engaging in collaborative improvisational music-making experiences with a child diagnosed with autism motivated the child to interact and reciprocate musically, building avenues for communication and responsive interaction.
Through music-making experiences in which Dr. Turry responded to the child's gestures, movements, and sounds, he was able to establish a musical relationship with the child. During this therapy process the child became less isolated and withdrawn, more confident, was able to sustain his focus and jointly attend by playing music together with the therapist, and made significant developments in his speech and fine and gross motor skills.
The clinical improvisation techniques that the Nordoff-Robbins therapist employs facilitate self-expression and also helps coordinate playing by establishing a basic beat, offering opportunities to imitate rhythmic patterns in a spontaneous fashion, and generating a sense of anticipation with melodic phrases and harmonic cadences. These musical experiences were all recognized as having the potential to improve brain function in those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
Other research presented included brain scans of those diagnosed with autism, illustrating how music- making increases the level of brain activation and triggers neural connections among the different areas of the brain.
Lecturers at the conference included Dr. Colwyn Trevarthen, a pioneer in the field of infant communication and the innate musicality in mother-infant interactions, Dr. Isabelle Peretz, co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound Research jointly affiliated with the University of Montreal and McGill University, Dr. Jacqueline Nadel, Research Director of the National Centre for Scientific Research in France, and Dr. Catherine Barthelomy, President of the Association for Research on Autism in France.