Discover How Drumming Enhances Socialization in Autism

autism drumming drum therapy drumming disabilities Jul 06, 2023
Caregiver and boy with Autism drum along with Jim Donovan during a live program

Drumming as a Tool for Socialization in Autism: A Look at the Evidence

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents a variety of challenges, including socialization difficulties. Individuals with ASD often have trouble understanding and interpreting social cues, which can lead to isolation and frustration. Traditional therapy approaches can be effective, but researchers are continually exploring new methods to aid socialization. One such method that has shown promising results is drumming.

Drumming and Autism: An Overview

Drumming is an ancient practice with roots in cultures around the world. Its rhythmic nature and physicality provide a unique medium for expression and communication. In recent years, research has begun to explore the impact of drumming on the socialization skills of people with autism.

1. Drumming as a Non-Verbal Form of Communication (Hillier, Fish, Siegel, & Beversdorf, 2011)

In this study, researchers found that drumming could serve as a non-verbal form of communication for children with autism. The children participated in group drumming sessions and demonstrated improvements in eye-contact and turn-taking, critical aspects of social interaction. The study concluded that drumming might help children with autism to express themselves and engage with others in a non-threatening and fun environment. (source)

2. Drumming and Joint Attention Skills (Srinivasan, Bhat, & Seung, 2015)

Joint attention, the ability to share attention with another person towards the same object or event, is often impaired in children with ASD. In this study, children with ASD participated in an interactive drumming program. The results indicated that the children showed significant improvements in joint attention skills and social reciprocity. The researchers suggested that the rhythmic nature of drumming may help to engage children with autism, making it easier for them to share attention and interact with others. (source)

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3. Drumming and Social Engagement (Maschi & Bradley, 2010)

Maschi and Bradley found that drumming could increase social engagement in adolescents with ASD. In their study, the participants took part in a 12-week drumming program. The researchers reported increased social engagement and reduced anxiety and withdrawal symptoms among the participants. They concluded that drumming could be a useful tool for promoting social engagement in individuals with ASD. (source)

4. Drumming and Behavioral Changes (Kim, Wigram, & Gold, 2009)

In this study, the researchers observed changes in behavior in children with ASD who participated in a drumming intervention program. The children showed improvements in social behaviors, communication, and attention span. The study concluded that drumming could be a beneficial therapeutic intervention for children with autism, helping to improve their social interactions and behavior control. (source)

5. Drumming and Emotional Expression (Blythe LaGasse, 2014)

LaGasse explored the impact of drumming on emotional expression in children with ASD. The children participated in a drumming intervention program and demonstrated increased emotional expression and improved social interactions. The study suggested that the rhythmic, tactile, and visual stimulation provided by drumming could help children with autism to express their emotions and connect with others. (source)

A Specific Drumming Exercise: The Rhythm Circle (Srinivasan, Bhat, & Seung, 2015)

In the study by Srinivasan, Bhat, & Seung, a specific drumming exercise was used to improve joint attention skills in children with ASD. The exercise, known as the "Rhythm Circle," involves the children sitting in a circle with a drum in front of each of them.

An instructor sits in the circle and begins to play a simple beat. The children are encouraged to copy the beat on their drums. The instructor then changes the beat, and the children follow.

This activity encourages the children to pay attention to the instructor and to each other and promotes turn-taking and shared attention. In conclusion, research suggests that drumming can be a powerful tool for promoting socialization in individuals with ASD.

The rhythmic, physical, and expressive nature of drumming provides a unique medium for communication and interaction. As we continue to explore and understand the full potential of this ancient practice, it's clear that drumming can play a vital role in the lives of people with autism.

If you're looking for a resource that shows you exactly how to lead rhythm games and "drum therapy" for people with Autism, check out my Drumming & Disabilities Training Course. It's a self-paced resource filled with beginner friendly methods and ideas that can bring the joy and benefits of drumming to the people in your care.

About Jim Donovan M.Ed.

Jim is a professional musician, trainer, Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University and TEDx speaker.

His mission is to share the healing power of music through education and performance. He specializes in placing music and wellness programs in organizations who focus on people with disabilities and people recovering from addiction.

Having presented over 3000+ rhythm and sound based programs since 1999, Donovan works internationally facilitating music and wellness events with a wide variety of populations including corporate, university, people with disabilities, and people recovering from addiction. 

Additional On Demand Training Programs by Jim Donovan

Drumming & Disabilities Training

Music and Mindfulness Training


  1. Hillier, A., Fish, T., Siegel, J. H., & Beversdorf, D. Q. (2011). Social and Musical Outcomes of a Percussion-Based Music Therapy Intervention with Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum: A Pilot Study. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 11(1).
  2. Srinivasan, S. M., Bhat, A. N., & Seung, H. K. (2015). A comparison of the effects of rhythm and robotic interventions on repetitive behaviors and affective states of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 18, 51–63.
  3. Maschi, T., & Bradley, C. A. (2010). Recreational drumming: A creative arts intervention strategy for social work teaching and practice. Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 15(2), 53–66.
  4. Kim, J., Wigram, T., & Gold, C. (2009). Emotional, motivational and interpersonal responsiveness of children with autism in improvisational music therapy. Autism, 13(4), 389–409.
  5. LaGasse, A. B. (2014). Effects of a music therapy group intervention on enhancing social skills in children with autism. Journal of Music Therapy, 51(3), 250–275.