Drumming may enhance social skills and concentration in adolescents with autism

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Drumming may enhance social skills and concentration in adolescents with autism, according to recent research.


The study involved 36 teenagers diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, with half receiving two months of drum training using a standard electronic drum kit program. This program, designed to monitor motor performance and timing accuracy, required participants to perform a series of repetitive rhythm patterns, as explained by lead author Marie-Stephanie Cahart.


The results indicated that drumming lessons reduced hyperactive behavior and increased the teenagers’ ability to concentrate and pay attention. The activity also appeared to strengthen communication between brain regions responsible for self-regulation, inhibitory control, and action-outcome monitoring.


Cahart, a doctoral candidate at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, stated that autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition characterized by social communication and interaction deficits and repetitive behaviors and interests. Drumming demands motor planning, timing accuracy, focused attention, and inhibition control, which can help address some of these deficits.


The study involved adolescents with an average age of 18 who had no prior drumming experience. Half received two 45-minute drum training sessions per week for eight weeks, while the other half did not receive any drum training. All participants underwent brain scans and neuropsychological testing before and after the study, and the severity of their autism symptoms was assessed.


Upon the study’s conclusion, caregivers and drum tutors reported improved eye contact, emotional regulation, and verbalization of needs in participants who received drum training. These individuals also experienced enhanced self-esteem and fewer angry outbursts. The participants in the drumming group reportedly enjoyed learning to drum.


Cahart emphasized the relevance of drumming activities for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, noting that the activity could benefit patients with various ability levels and autism symptoms. Drumming focuses on hand-eye coordination, timing, and continuous monitoring and correcting of errors, which strengthens attention, inhibition, and thinking skills that contribute to social outcomes and overall well-being. Furthermore, percussion activities are enjoyable and accessible to everyone, regardless of musical background, age, or ethnicity.


While Donna Murray, vice president and head of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, acknowledged that drumming has not been specifically used as an autism intervention, she highlighted the broader context of music therapy as a common supplemental therapy for people with autism. More research is needed to determine the type of drumming intervention, its extent, and its potential beneficiaries. The findings were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


See the study here: Study


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