Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dance Therapy; by Katerina Vasakou

Body movement therapy approaches support the view that the non-verbal interaction components and body mechanisms of people with autism should be taken strongly into consideration when working in therapeutic and supportive environments.

The individuals’ movement characteristics as well as their deficiencies constitute the major therapeutic starting point for dance movement therapists, and these are primarily used in the first steps of the therapy context.

A variety of changes occur for the individual either at a physical, interpersonal, or emotional level during movement therapy. They experience increases in heartbeat, muscular activations, variations of body postures, and new kinaesthetic perceptions; at a more interpersonal and emotional level, the sharing and communication of emotional states through body movement has also been found to increase interpersonal attunement, empathy, and the regulation of emotions.

By working with the body and through techniques such as imitation, mirroring and echoing, individuals with autism can further develop their skills of motor preparation and planning. Improvement is also seen at the communication levels as well as the interpersonal skills.

According to Behrends et al. (2012), a relationship of trust as well as developing a basic understanding of others can also lead to the development of empathy, one of the basic social skills.

Koch’s et al. (2014) study tested an intervention of dance movement therapy based on the mirroring approach in movement in a group of 31 young adults with autism spectrum disorder (highly functioning and Asperger’s syndrome). The aim of the intervention was to test if the approach, which took place once/week for 7 weeks, would increase body awareness, social skills, self-other distinction, empathy, and well-being. Their pilot study results suggest that dance movement therapy had a positive effect on individuals with significant increases in body awareness, self-other awareness, psychological well-being, and improvements in social skills. As a final note it was highlighted the need to conduct further research to investigate DMT and autism with bigger populations.


Behrends, A, Mueller, S., and Dziobek I. (2012). Moving in and out of synchrony: a concept for a new intervention fostering empathy through interactional movement and dance, The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39, pp.107–116

Koch, S.C. (2011). Basic body rhythms and embodied intercorporality: from individual to interpersonal movement feedback. In: Tschacher, W., and Bergomi, C. (eds) The Implications of Embodiment: Cognition and Communication. Exeter: Imprint Academic, pp.151–171

Sabine, C.K., Laura, M., Esther, S., Maik, S., and Thomas, F. (2014). Fixing the mirrors: A feasibility study of the effects of dance movement therapy of young adults with autism spectrum disorders, Autism, 19(3), pp.338-350

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