Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Music Education and Music Therapy (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Shannon K. de l'Etoile

Second Committee Member

Kimberly Sena Moore

Third Committee Member

Michael Alessandri


This study examined the effect of rhythmic cueing and martial arts on the gross motor skills of children with autism and to determine whether children with autism can learn martial arts movements. Ten male children ages 7 to 12 years old and diagnosed with autism with no martial arts experience received eight, 30-minute martial arts sessions with rhythmic cueing over a 4-week period. Each session included reviewing and learning select martial arts movements (basic strikes, kicks, blocks, stances, and movement sequences) with rhythmic cues that were provided in the form of pre-recorded percussion sounds. These sounds included: temporal cues that directed the timing of each movement, spatial cues that indicated the direction of movement, and force cues that facilitated the amount of muscle effort needed for each movement. Results showed that participants exhibited statistically significant pre- to post-test improvements in bilateral coordination and body coordination skills (composite of bilateral coordination and balance). These differences also generated large effect sizes, thus indicating practical significance. All other gross motor sub-tests showed improvements at a non-significant level, with the exception of running speed and agility, which showed a non-significant decline. Furthermore, children demonstrated statistically significant pre- to post-test improvements in their performance of all 15 martial arts movements, which means they could and did learn the movements. These results suggest that martial arts instruction with rhythmic cues enhances motor execution of children with autism, specifically, bilateral coordination and body coordination. Thus, this protocol may be a viable option to improve motor skills of children with autism.


autism; motor skills; rhythmic cueing; music therapy; martial arts; patterned sensory enhancement