Drumming to the Beat of Autism: A Unique Method to Boost Attention

attention skills autism drumming drum therapy Jul 06, 2023
Drum therapy with Doctor and boy with Autism

Drumming: A Powerful Tool for Improving Attention in Individuals with Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors.

One of the significant challenges faced by individuals with autism is the difficulty in maintaining attention, crucial for learning and social interactions (Bekker et al., 2010).

But what if there existed a fun and engaging method to improve attention to task in people with ASD? Recent research indicates that drumming might be a potent tool for this purpose.

The Rhythmic Power of Drumming

Drumming, a rhythmic and physical activity, has been found to stimulate both cognitive and physical responses. A study by Wan et al. (2014) suggests that rhythmic activities like drumming could help to enhance the attention span of children with autism (Wan et al., 2014).

This research study involved 10 children with autism who participated in a 5-week drumming intervention. The results showed significant improvements in attention span and task completion.

This research offers promising evidence of drumming as an effective intervention for improving attention.

An earlier study by Thaut et al. (2009) also found that rhythm has a significant impact on motor response. In their research, they discovered that rhythmic cues could help to stabilize irregular movements and improve motor control (Thaut et al., 2009).

This is particularly relevant for individuals with autism, who often experience difficulties with motor coordination. Drumming, with its rhythmic nature and physical involvement, can contribute to improved motor skills which in turn, can enhance attention.

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Drumming and Attention: The Neurological Connections

Research by Bungert et al. (2017) explored the neurological basis of drumming's effect on attention. The study discovered that drumming directly stimulates the prefrontal cortex, the brain area responsible for attention, decision-making, and behavior (Bungert et al., 2017).

The rhythmic stimulation of drumming enhances the functionality of this area, thereby improving the attention span of individuals with autism.

Another study by Särkämö et al. (2014) showed that listening to and making music increased the cerebral blood flow in the frontal areas of the brain, which are related to attention and cognitive processing (Särkämö et al., 2014).

This research suggests that drumming can enhance blood flow to these areas, potentially improving attention in individuals with autism.

A Practical Drumming Exercise

One of the drumming exercises from Wan et al.'s (2014) study involved the children playing drums in a group following a rhythmic pattern.

The instructor would first play a particular rhythm, and the children were asked to replicate it. This activity demanded attention, coordination, and memory, thereby stimulating the prefrontal cortex and enhancing attention span.

Here is a detailed description of the exercise:

Step 1:

The instructor plays a simple rhythmic pattern on the drum. For instance, it could be a pattern of four beats - two quick beats followed by two slower ones.

Step 2:

The children listen attentively to the rhythm.

Step 3:

After the instructor finishes, the children are then asked to replicate the rhythm. They are encouraged to pay attention to the beat, the tempo, and the number of drum hits.

Step 4:

The children repeat the rhythm on their drums. This activity is repeated with increasing complexity of rhythmic patterns.

This drumming exercise not only helps to increase attention span, but it also improves auditory memory and motor coordination, which are beneficial for individuals 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.


The power of drumming in enhancing attention span in individuals with autism is backed by several research studies. From improving motor control to stimulating the prefrontal cortex, drumming offers a multitude of benefits.

Moreover, it is an engaging and enjoyable activity that encourages participation. Hence, implementing drumming as an intervention could significantly improve the quality of life and learning experiences of individuals with autism.

While more research is needed to fully understand the scope of drumming's benefits, it is clear that drumming holds great potential as a therapeutic tool for individuals with autism.

It's time we drummed our way to better attention and enhanced cognitive functioning!

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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