Understanding the Effect of Music Therapy for Students with Autism: Analysis of Voices Together Data (2017-2018)


The Voices Together music therapy program has been a part of local school special-education classrooms for the past five years. Bass Connections has been involved for the past three years. In 2014-2015, the program took place in self-contained special-education elementary classrooms in Durham Public Schools. In 2015-2016, the program took place in self-contained autism-only elementary classrooms in Alamance-Burlington Schools. In 2016-2017, the program is again taking place in self-contained autism-only elementary classrooms in Alamance-Burlington Schools.

Project Description

This project will focus on the analysis and dissemination of the data collected during the implementation of the Voices Together program and on exploring questions about special education and the schools, music therapy and student gain.

Each year’s Bass Connections project team has worked with Voices Together to design a research study to serve the needs of the intervention. Drawing on the collected data, there are a variety of research topics that can be explored during the 2017-2018 Bass Connections project team, such as:

  • Working on the papers under review and supporting the efforts to get 2015-2016 data disseminated
  • Contributing to follow-up papers comparing and/or pooling the data from 2016-2017 with 2015-2016
  • Analyzing therapy sessions from 2015-2016 and comparing them to the 2014-2015 results
  • Analyzing the observations of the Teacher Toolbox intervention from the 2016-2017 study
  • Assessing teachers over time or writing a broad-based paper on special education and autism in central North Carolina using NCERDC as well as project data
  • Assessing the overall merits of Voices Together as an intervention and creating a policy memo for the State of North Carolina.

Anticipated Outcomes

Papers or posters presented at an autism conference or an evaluation conference; manuscripts; policy memo or another public document for schools

Student Opportunities

The team will meet weekly. Students will gain an understanding of the overall topic, the intervention, the measurement and data, then work on individual and group projects to gain insight about their questions from the data collected over the past three years.

Students will take active roles in developing products for conferences and papers for publication.

We seek to recruit a graduate student and four undergraduates who are interested in school-based research, autism and other developmental disabilities and have experience in either research design or statistical analysis. Students who are new to these areas but are willing to learn are also welcome to apply. Disciplines may include but are not limited to education, psychology, neuroscience, sociology, psychiatry, brain science, medicine, economics, evolutionary anthropology and music.

Undergraduate team members will have the opportunity to understand the diagnostic criteria for autism and related developmental disabilities; understand the therapeutic approach of music therapy; demonstrate knowledge from readings and apply it during team meetings; gain knowledge and skills relating to data management and qualitative/quantitative data analysis; understand research ethics, human subjects protections, confidentiality and how an IRB works; increase awareness of and appreciation for interdisciplinary, multilevel teamwork, including honing the ability to talk to colleagues from different disciplines and understanding the contribution that each team member brings to the team as a whole; and evaluate and improve on effectiveness as a team member through building self-awareness and understanding of teamwork.


Fall 2017 – Spring 2018

Team meetings will likely take place on Wednesdays, 1:15-2:45.

  • Fall 2017: Students gain background on developmental disabilities, teacher training, research and program evaluation; students select one or more papers to be actively engaged with by developing a literature review, developing or modifying an analysis plan and developing or modifying a coding strategy
  • Spring 2018: Students gain background on manuscript writing, journals and audience, qualitative and quantitative data analysis; students take part in data analysis; team actively engages in manuscript writing, editing and reviewing in order to have three or more papers under review by the end of the project


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

See earlier related team, Voices Together: Music Therapy and Autism in Elementary Schools (2016-2017).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Geri Dawson, School of Medicine - Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Megan Gray, Social Science Research Institute*
Jan Riggsbee, Trinity - Program in Education
Lorrie Schmid, Social Science Research Institute*
Jessica Sperling Smokoski, Social Science Research Institute*

Undergraduate Team Members

Paulina Paras, Neuroscience (AB)

Community Team Members

Yasmine White, Voices Together

* denotes team leader