An image of children dancing
Photo by Anna Earl

A team of researchers at Edge Hill University have released a new study that explores the benefits of Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) for children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers. 

The primary focus of the study rested not only on the wellbeing of children but also considered the potential of caregivers’ mental health as an effective intervention strategy.     

Supritha Aithal, a PhD student conducted the research under the University’s Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing, and her findings suggest that engaging in creative movement and dance in the presence of a qualified therapist can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers.  

The study involved 26 children aged between eight to 13-years and 37 caregivers, including parents and teachers, from two SEN schools in the North West of England.  

Supritha said: “Overall, the research has provided preliminary evidence that dance movement psychotherapy can be useful to enhance the wellbeing of children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers. Although, these results cannot be generalised, the positive results from this study highlight the value of non-verbal creative interventions and the need to engage further in larger studies.” 

During the DMP sessions, children were met at their preferred verbal and physical level to create kinaesthetic connections, while caregivers were encouraged to explore their strengths and reflect on their coping styles through movements. 

The sessions also encouraged children to engage in various levels of sensory-motor activities, creative, playful and improvisational movements.  

The UK’s Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy describes DMP as a distinct form of psychotherapy where the body, movement and dance can be used creatively as an instrument of communication to facilitate the integration of emotional, physical, social, cognitive and spiritual aspects of an individual. 

An image of PhD student Supritha Aithal
Edge Hill PhD student Supritha Aithal

Supritha said: “We found that the intervention improved the social and emotional wellbeing of children participating in the study, irrespective of whether they preferred verbal or non-verbal modes of communication. It facilitated recognition of their body and of other people, allowing them both to connect and differentiate from others”. 

For some children, DMP was found to support emotional regulation, build group connections and new vocabulary by providing opportunities to safely express difficult feelings. 

The caregivers who attended the sessions also identified helpful factors which allowed them to relax and indicated a reduction in parenting stress measures. 

Professor Vicky Karkou, Director of the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing and the Director of this study, said: “Although much of the pioneering work in this field has focused on children with autism, research evidence in this area has only recently become available.” 

The study was supported by Edge Hill academics Dr Joanne Powell, Dr Stergios Makris and Dr Themis Karaminis. 

Edge Hill University’s Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing engages in multidisciplinary research activities, drawing expertise across three main strands: research on performance, community/workplace projects and clinical research. To find out more about the work of the centre, click here.