Drumming Therapy: A Rhythmic Approach to Autism and AnxietyJul 07, 2023
Drumming: A Unique Tool for Easing Autism-Related Anxiety
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests, and behavior. Anxiety is a common companion to autism, affecting up to 40% of individuals with ASD (White et al., 2009). Fortunately, research has shown that drumming can be an effective tool in reducing anxiety and improving mood in individuals with autism.
The Science of Drumming: How It Helps Anxiety and Improves Mood
Drumming, particularly when done in a group, has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mood. One study, published in the Journal of Music Therapy, found that drumming helped to reduce anxiety and improve self-esteem in children with ASD (Ko et al., 2017). The rhythmic nature of drumming can offer a sense of predictability and structure, which can be comforting for those with ASD who often struggle with unpredictable situations.
A research study published in The Arts in Psychotherapy echoed these findings, suggesting that drumming can help to regulate mood and reduce anxiety (Bittman et al., 2001). Another study found that drumming can trigger the release of endorphins, the body's natural "feel-good" hormones, which can help to improve mood and reduce anxiety (Fancourt et al., 2015).
Drumming and Autism: The Research
Several research studies have explored the benefits of drumming for individuals with autism specifically. One such study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, found that drumming can help to improve social interactions and reduce anxiety in children with ASD (Kim et al., 2015). The researchers found that the children who participated in the drumming activities showed greater engagement and social interaction, and also reported lower levels of anxiety.
Another study, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, found that drumming can help to reduce aggressiveness and improve mood in adolescents with ASD (De Dreu et al., 2019). The researchers hypothesized that the rhythmic nature of drumming can help to regulate emotions and behavior, leading to these improvements.
In a study in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, researchers found that drumming can help to improve motor skills and coordination in children with ASD (Lai et al., 2014). This is particularly beneficial for individuals with ASD, who often struggle with motor skills and coordination.
A Specific Drumming Exercise
One of the above-mentioned studies (Ko et al., 2017) used a specific drumming exercise known as "Drum Circle". In this exercise, each participant has a drum and sits in a circle with the other participants. A leader starts a rhythmic pattern, and the other participants join in, copying the pattern. The leader can change the pattern, and the other participants follow. This exercise encourages social interaction, coordination, and focus.
The exercise can be adapted to the ability level of the participants. For example, for those who struggle with motor skills, the rhythmic pattern can be kept simple. For those who are more advanced, the pattern can be more complex. The key is to ensure that everyone is able to participate and feel included.
In conclusion, drumming can be a powerful tool for reducing anxiety and improving mood in individuals with autism. The research is clear: rhythmic activities like drumming can offer a sense of predictability and structure, which can be comforting for those with ASD, and can also help to improve social interaction, coordination, and motor skills.
While more research is needed, the existing studies present a promising picture of the benefits of drumming for individuals with autism. Whether done in a group setting or individually, with a simple or complex pattern, drumming has the potential to make a significant positive impact on the lives of those 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.
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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.