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Autistic Drum Therapy

For the parent, teacher or case manager responsible for a person affected by autism, there is nothing more important than finding a way to help and benefit the life-long struggles that those “on the spectrum” face as they navigate through school and move into the adult world. With the wellness effects of drumming and the inherent structural benefits of a steady rhythm, drumming can help reach autistic children on a fun and familiar level, giving them great music and a way to interpret communications and improve their functioning within a cooperative group environment.

One of the traits of autism may include the child’s desire for structure. This may be in their daily schedule or routine, in their preferred clothing, foods or even music. Because of this need for structure, some occupational therapists and other autism specialists have begun to incorporate drumming into their therapy sessions with autistic children. The rhythms that are established while drumming are structured and can be easily imitated, encouraging the autistic child or adult to replicate a “normal” activity, but within a language that could perhaps be better understood due to the repetitious rhythms. Drumming may be a way for those affected by autism to access the right side of their brain, helping not only with socialization, but also with anxiety and behavioral problems and opening up the typically logical and pragmatic mind to more creative stimulus. Drumming also incorporates teamwork and collaboration, and as such, can help teach autistic children (and non-autistic children) how to work together.

Since drumming can give autistic children a voice and a means to express emotions through rhythm, tone, speed and volume of drumming, it can help them process their days and even assist in their ability to communicate verbally. By modeling a rhythm played by a teacher or therapist, or even having a “call and response” session, it is possible that the sounds played mimic that of ordinary conversation. This can help with conversational modeling, a hurdle for many children affected by autism.

In drumming, the subtleties and nuances of emotion are expressed in a less-subjective manner – fast drumming is exciting, while slower rhythms naturally induce feelings of rest and relaxation. Anger can be a loud beat and happiness becomes a joyful, less structured rhythm played on multiple drums like congas or bongos. Drumming is also “cause and effect” and tactile, helping to integrate sensory aspects into the therapeutic environment while it imitates conversation.

The benefits of drumming for autistic children are still being studied, and like most therapies, may not work for every child. Providing new options and therapies to parents, caregivers and case managers of autistic children are important since there is still so much to learn about autism and what can help these children.

29th Oct 2014

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