Drumming and Special Needs Children

29th Oct 2014

The long-lasting personal development goals and benefits of drumming can turn a group into an entity of change, ambition and wellness. With research pointing out the benefits of drumming for those with neurological disorders, and the overall benefit of drumming and music on a child’s comprehension in school, special needs educators and therapists are beginning to incorporate drumming into therapy time. These sessions, either on a one-on-one basis or in a group can be effective exercises for children with autism, ADD/ADHD or developmental delays.

One of the ways that drumming helps a special needs child is with the ability of the drum to help the child produce a non-verbal response, a developmental delay that many children with autism, auditory processing disorder or ADD/ADHD face. In a typical “call and response” exercise, these children can understand the dynamics of conversation, and may be better able to produce a personal response to a question or statement on a djembe than a verbal response within the same conversation.

Drumming can help a special needs child understand emotion, through the sounds produced as well as the tempo. If "happy" is an upbeat tempo, played at a medium volume, the teacher, therapist or facilitator can build on the response and encourage the child to further elaborate on the feeling, either on the drum or verbally. Other emotions that naturally connect to music can also be encouraged through the same dynamic of labeling emotions through drumming, giving the therapist, teacher or facilitator insight into the child's mind, as well as giving the child a way to express emotion and thought in a less intimidating, more intuitive manner.

Joshua's djembe

Facilitating a drum circle for special needs children requires a little patience and planning, but even a professional without experience can integrate drumming into a classroom or therapeutic environment. It is important to keep the drumming as simple as possible in order to not overwhelm or overstimulate the children involved, as many of them can be sensitive to loud noises or too much activity. Smaller groups may be more productive and easier on everyone involved in the activity. Some therapists, teachers or facilitators may find it easier to have an audio recording of a simple rhythm playing in the background, especially when initially teaching the children, in order to provide personal instruction to the children who need it. Building on the children's current song knowledge can also help ease them into drumming (think "Old MacDonald" as a "call and response" song).

Integrating drumming into a classroom for special needs students can be a beneficial way for therapists, teachers and students to connect on a level that helps improve communication, collaboration and increase cognition and attention within a regular classroom. With the various delays and struggles that special needs kids face in schools, a new and exciting way to communicate with these children can make a huge difference in the learning and social experiences they face.