Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Expressive Therapies


Typical imitation skills that are integral to language and social learning do not readily develop in children with autism. Echolalia, an echoing or imitation of speech sounds, has historically been considered a non-meaningful form verbal imitation. Since music is intrinsically more meaningful than language for children with autism, musical echolalia may offer path to communication for non-verbal children with autism. This research study sought to identify a potential existence of musical echolalia among nonverbal children with autism. Twelve non-verbal children diagnosed with classic autism, six boys and six girls, aged four to eight, who had no formal musical training or music therapy experience participated in this study. Participants took part in a single, one-onone, videotaped music therapy session. For this study the term musical echolalia was defined as the demonstration of the immediate, relative, imitation of a pitch, melody or, rhythm sequence of a musical phrase performed through vocal, instrumental, or physical expression. Non-musical utterances or noises such as echoic or imitative speech sounds and unrelated motor movements were not included in this study as musical echolalia. Each child’s immediate imitation of discrete musical elements was deemed musical echolalia; thus, elements of pitch, rhythm, voice, musical instrument, and physical expression were included in this study. Based on these criteria seven different sub-types of musical echolalia were identified. Inferential statistics and single factor ANOVA were used to compare the frequency of musical stimuli and musical echolalia, the social responses that occurred after musical echolalia, and the potential associations across gender and age. A statistically significant difference was found for the musical echolalia type RIO (rhythm with a musical instrument) when compared to the frequencies for the 11other sub-types of musical echolalia. The identification of musical echolalia sub-types may offer insight to understanding the musical elements that each child attunes to. Furthermore, the identification of musical echolalia abilities may aid in diagnostic assessment and in the development of treatment protocols for these children. Additional research needs to be done, however, to further determine musical echolalia’s potential for use as a tool in developing social and communicative reciprocity for non-verbal children with autism.

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