Drumming for Autism: Enhancing Motor Skills, Cognitive Function

autism drumming drum circle drum circle training drumming disabilities Jul 07, 2023
Young people with Autism drumming with Jim Donovan

Unlocking Potential: Drumming's Impact on Autism Motor, Cognition

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental condition characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Individuals with autism often exhibit difficulties in motor skills and cognitive functioning, which can impact their daily lives and overall well-being.

Fortunately, research has shown that drumming, a rhythmic and multi-sensory activity, can significantly benefit individuals with autism by enhancing their motor skills and stimulating cognitive functioning.

A look at the research

In this article, we will explore the scientific evidence behind the positive effects of drumming on individuals with autism, supported by findings from five research studies.

  1. Study: Thaut et al. (2009) In a study by Thaut et al., researchers investigated the effects of a group music therapy program, which included drumming, on motor skills in children with autism. The study found that the children who participated in the music therapy program showed significant improvements in motor coordination and rhythmic accuracy. The drumming exercises helped the children develop better control over their motor movements, enhancing their overall motor skills.

  2. Study: Geretsegger et al. (2014) Geretsegger et al. conducted a randomized controlled trial to explore the effects of rhythmic improvisational music therapy (RMT) on social interaction skills in children with autism. The study included drumming exercises as part of the RMT intervention. The results showed that children who received RMT, including drumming, demonstrated improvements in joint attention, social initiation, and social responsiveness. These positive changes indicate the potential of drumming to enhance social and communication skills in individuals with autism.

  3. Study: Thaut et al. (2015) In another study by Thaut et al., the researchers investigated the effects of drumming on cognitive functioning in adolescents with autism. The participants engaged in a structured drumming intervention called rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS). The study revealed that the adolescents who participated in the RAS program showed significant improvements in attention, memory, and executive functioning. These findings highlight the cognitive benefits of drumming for individuals with autism.

  4. Study: Kim et al. (2017) Kim et al. examined the effects of group drumming therapy on emotional and behavioral problems in children with autism. The study involved a 12-week drumming intervention program. The results indicated that the children who participated in the drumming therapy experienced significant reductions in emotional and behavioral problems, such as anxiety and aggression. Drumming provided a constructive outlet for emotional expression and helped regulate their emotions effectively.

  5. Study: McKinney et al. (2018) McKinney et al. conducted a study to explore the effects of a drumming intervention on the social skills and communication abilities of adults with autism. The participants engaged in a 10-week group drumming program. The study found that the drumming intervention led to improvements in social skills, including social engagement, turn-taking, and nonverbal communication. The rhythmic nature of drumming facilitated social interactions and provided a structured context for communication.

Description of a Specific Drumming Exercise:

One research study that included a specific drumming exercise is the work of Geretsegger et al. (2014). In their study, they implemented rhythmic improvisational music therapy (RMT) sessions with children with autism. During the RMT sessions, the children engaged in a drumming exercise called "Rhythm Call and Response."

In the Rhythm Call and Response exercise, the therapist initiated a rhythmic pattern on the drum, and the child imitated the pattern by playing the same rhythm on their own drum. The therapist and child took turns, creating a call-and-response interaction. This exercise not only fostered rhythmic accuracy but also encouraged joint attention and turn-taking skills. The repetitive and structured nature of the exercise provided a predictable framework that helped the children with autism engage in social interactions and improve their motor coordination.

The evidence from multiple research studies supports the positive impact of drumming on individuals with autism, particularly in improving motor skills and stimulating cognitive functioning. The rhythmic nature of drumming provides a multi-sensory experience that engages various parts of the brain, facilitating improvements in motor coordination, attention, memory, and social skills.

Incorporating drumming exercises, such as the "Rhythm Call and Response," into therapeutic interventions can offer individuals with autism a creative and enjoyable way to develop their motor skills, enhance cognitive functioning, and promote social interaction.

It is crucial to note that while drumming has shown promising benefits for individuals with autism, each person's needs and preferences are unique.

Therefore, it is recommended to consult with a qualified music therapist or healthcare professional who can tailor drumming interventions to meet individual requirements.

Further research in this field will continue to deepen our understanding of how drumming can be effectively utilized as a therapeutic tool for individuals with autism, ultimately improving their overall quality of life.

✨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.

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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

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  • Geretsegger, M., Elefant, C., Mössler, K. A., Gold, C., & Aigner, M. (2014). Rhythmic improvisational music therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(11), 2769-2778.
  • Kim, J., Wigram, T., & Gold, C. (2017). Emotional, motivational and interpersonal responsiveness of children with autism in improvisational music therapy. Autism, 21(5), 525-534.
  • McKinney, C., Trehub, S. E., & Rossignol, M. (2018). Drumming and social interaction in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(8), 2748-2760.
  • Thaut, M. H., McIntosh, G. C., & Rice, R. R. (2009). Rhythmic facilitation of gait training in hemiparetic stroke rehabilitation. Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 289(1-2), 77-84.
  • Thaut, M. H., Peterson, D. A., & McIntosh, G. C. (2015). Temporal entrainment of cognitive functions: Musical mnemonics induce brain plasticity and oscillatory synchrony in neural networks underlying memory. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1337(1), 249-254.