Under the auspices of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, Dr. Istvan Molnar-Szakacs and collaborators are developing MELODY - a research program that harnesses the universal power of music to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) overcome their difficulties in social and emotional communication.
The ability to enjoy music is a universal human trait - we relate to music spontaneously and effortlessly. Music also has the powerful and unique ability to awaken emotions, trigger memories, and to intensify our social experiences. These qualities give music extraordinary potential as a research, educational and therapeutic tool, and yet little research has examined the power of music to alleviate human illness and suffering. Individuals with ASD are known to experience difficulties with the communication and understanding of emotion, such as difficulties in interpreting emotion from facial expressions. In contrast, both behavioral and anecdotal evidence suggest that individuals with ASD show less difficulty identifying emotion in musical stimuli, presenting an interesting disassociation between these different types of emotional communication.
Music Enhanced Learning Opportunities for Developing Youth (MELODY) aims to harness the universal power of music to help children with ASD overcome their difficulties in social and emotional communication by: 1) studying the brain bases of socio-emotional deficits using neuroimaging techniques 2) developing a music-based therapeutic intervention to teach children emotion recognition skills and 3) conducting quantitative and qualitative evaluations of music education programs for children with special needs.