The statistics are astounding: one in 110 children are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the US. ASD is a pervasive disorder that does not discriminate based on age, race, religion, ethnicity or socioeconomic group, but touches the lives of everyone, equally. Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses a wide range of communication and social disabilities, leaving the child or adult affected by ASD without the ability to learn and integrate the necessary life skills needed to function productively within society, impacting success in school and later as an adult in the work force.
As a “spectrum disorder,” the effects of ASD vary depending on its severity. Some ASD children and adults are unable to speak entirely, while others may just not grasp social nuances. Repetitive actions or behaviors and intense focus on concepts or objects may also be characteristics of those with ASD, as well as difficulties with fine and gross motor activities. It is these challenges associated with ASD that have led many drumming and music therapy professionals to work with those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Drumming is a repetitive action that involves both physical and mental awareness. It is believed that the tactile striking of drums connects touch with speech, while stimulating the right side of the brain: the side that controls creativity, social awareness and behavior. Experts who provide therapy to those affected by ASD have seen improvements in the social and speech abilities often associated with ASD. These improvements are attributed to the natural patterns that develop during a drum session that connect with the natural patterns followed by those with ASD. Furthermore, music and drumming is a social experience, and within a drum circle of djembes, congas or bongos, a child or adult affected by ASD has his or her own “voice” in the collective rhythm, encouraging a feeling of social inclusion and establishing a music-based social environment. For those without the ability to participate in a drum circle, a personal “call and response” drum session between therapist/teacher/parent and child can help produce many of the same benefits.
While doctors continue to connect the causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder to genetic or other factors, the parents, therapists and teachers of those affected by ASD are challenged to find new and effective ways to help encourage skills and abilities that could otherwise be locked away inside the ASD mind. Drumming is proving itself to be an effective tool for helping to achieve various social and communication goals within the ASD community.