A new therapy developed at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center can help nonverbal children with autism to develop speech, according to a study published in the journal PLoS One.

Beth Israel deaconess medical center researchers developed a therapy called Auditory-Motor mapping training (AMMT) which uses combination of singing and motor activities to strengthen a network of brain regions thought to be abnormal in autistic children.

"Communication deficits are one of the core symptoms of autism," explains first author Catherine Wan, PhD, a researcher in the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory of BIDMC's Department of Neurology and an Instructor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School (HMS).

"It has been estimated that up to 25 percent of all children with autism are nonverbal, but surprisingly, not much is out there treatment-wise that directly helps these children to speak.

In the Beth Israel study non-verbal children who were on the AMMT treatment for 8 weeks, five days a week were able to approximate whole words and phrases.

"Noticeable improvements in speech were seen as early as two weeks into the treatment," explains Wan. "More importantly, the improvements lasted as long as two months after the treatment sessions ended.

"In the future, we plan to compare the effectiveness of AMMT with a control intervention," she adds. "For these nonverbal children to say their first words is especially gratifying for parents, and represents a critical step forward in their language development."