Voices Together: Music Therapy and Autism in Elementary Schools (2015-2016)

This project continued a partnership between Voices Together, a Chapel Hill nonprofit that provides classroom-based music therapy for children in special-education classrooms, Bass Connections and the Social Science Research Institute’s Education and Human Development Incubator.

Voices Together developed a music therapy curriculum to increase communication skills, improve social skills and develop self-esteem and self-control among children with developmental disabilities. During typical hour-long sessions, music therapists use nondirective strategies, such as student-directed decision-making, responsive prompting and the creation of a safe space.

The Bass Connections team worked with a district in North Carolina that utilized the Voices Together program. Focusing on nine classrooms with 64 students, team members observed videos of music therapy session to look for behaviors that signal emotional expression or social engagement—eye contact with the therapist or another student, or speaking directly to anyone in the room, or a smile. They coded the behaviors in a database and designed a set of probes at different time points to analyze whether the therapy resulted in measurable change in behavior. Each probe, a set of 20 questions to measure skills, was administered by a music therapist.


Fall 2015 – Spring 2016

Team Outcomes

Jenna Mendelson, Yasmin White, Laura Hans, Richard Adebari, Lorrie Schmid, Jan Riggsbee, Ali Goldsmith, Burcu Ozler, Kristen Buehne, Sarah Jones, Jennifer Shapleton, Geraldine Dawson. “A Preliminary Investigation of a Specialized Music Therapy Model for Children with Disabilities Delivered in a Classroom Setting.” Autism Research and Treatment 2016.

Voices Together: Music Therapy and Autism in Elementary Schools (poster by Paige Scarbrough, Roshni Prakash, Xin Tong Lim, Giselle Graham)

EHDx Talks (presentation by Giselle Graham and Xin Tong Lim at the Nasher Museum of Art, April 13, 2016)

Voices Together: Music Therapy and Autism in Elementary Schools (project website)


Roshni Prakash

Xin Tong Lim

Coding, Coding...and More Coding

Picking Back Up

Moving Forward

The Fear of Presentation

Big Changes Ahead

Finding Reassurance and Inspiration in Music Therapy

A Team-building Cooking Class!

Understanding Music Therapy and Creating a Coding Scheme

The Beginning of the Voices Together Project

Giselle Graham, Economics '18

This Team in the News

Six Students on Their Community-Engaged Research, from Bangalore to Durham

From Autism to Slums, Duke Students Tackle Challenges in Human Development

Bass Connections Students Report on Education Research

Specialized Music Therapy Helps Kids with Autism Socialize

See related teams, Voices Together: Music Therapy and Autism in Elementary Schools (2014-2015) and Voices Together: Music Therapy and Autism in Elementary Schools (2016-2017).

Team Leaders

  • Geri Dawson, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Jan Riggsbee, Arts & Sciences-Program in Education
  • Carol Ripple, Social Science Research Institute

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Giselle Graham, Political Science (AB)
  • Xin Tong Lim, Psychology (AB)
  • Roshni Prakash, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS)
  • Paige Scarbrough, Psychology (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Lauren Demoss, Social Science Research Institute

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Yasmine White, Voices Together