A pilot study found evidence that a dance intervention may be beneficial for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These findings were published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

Adolescents (N=36) with ASD were recruited at the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil in 2018. Patients were randomly assigned to participate in dance classes (n=17) or to receive care as usual  (n=19).

The dance class intervention consisted of 40-minute weekly sessions over 6 months with 8 children per class. Dances were intended to stimulate imaginary play aimed at promoting communication and social reciprocity. Mothers of participants in the intervention group also engaged in a concurrent dance class held in a separate room.

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The primary outcome was change in scores on the the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), the Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC), the Autism Screening Questionnaire (ASQ), and the World Health Organization of Disability Assessment Schedule (WHODAS).

The dance cohort consisted of 14 boys and 3 girls, and the control cohort consisted of 15 boys and 4 girls. The mean age of participants in the dance and control cohorts was 10.41 (SD, 2.24) and 10.00 (SD, 2.03) years, respectively, they were diagnosed at 46.94 (SD, 13.46) and 49.11 (SD, 11.90) months of age, respectively, BMI was 22.09 (SD, 2.57) and 24.82 (SD, 5.39) kg/m2, respectively, and 8 and 10 were taking medications, respectively.

During the study, 9 participants were lost to follow-up. The patients who did not complete the study had younger mothers at the time of their birth (mean, 37.33 vs 45.37; P =.001), respectively, and were diagnosed at a later age (mean, 53.33 vs 46.36 months; P =.04), respectively, compared with participants who completed the study.

Compared with the control group, the dance intervention was associated with significant changes to ABC (mean difference [MD], -14.87; P =.002) and CARS (MD, -11.82; P <.001) total scores but not in ASQ (MD, -3.42; P =.08) scores.

Stratified by score components, the dance intervention was associated with significant improvements to language (P =.008), sensory (P =.031), and relating (P =.034) behavior scores of the ABC instrument and relationship to people (P <.001), body use (P <.001), adaption to change (P <.001), visual response (P <.001), fear and nervousness (P <.001), emotional response (P =.002), nonverbal communication (P =.004), general impression (P =.007), imitation (P =.010), object use (P =.022), and verbal communication (P =.041) subscores of the CARS instrument compared with the controls.

Among the mothers, recipients of the dance class had significant changes to interpersonal relationships, life activities, and social participation WHODAS components (all P <.001) compared with controls.

This study may have been limited by not considering self-reported or parent-reported measures.

Study authors concluded, “The findings of this study suggest that dance practice can be associated with promising benefits as an adjunctive therapy to improve communication and social reciprocity. These findings are specific for these participants, and we recommend for replication of the most probable effects using more objective measures of generalized benefit in the future research.”


Teixeira-Machado L, Arida RM, Ziebold C, et al. A pilot randomized controlled clinical trial of dance practice for functionality in autistic children and adolescent with all levels of need support. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2022;101650. doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2022.101650

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor