The CDC recently released new numbers that show one in 88 people is affected by an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the U.S. With autism rates still climbing, many parents, teachers and therapists are searching for ways to help children and adults learn skills that can help minimize some difficulties experienced by those “on the spectrum.” Drumming, in particular, has shown several benefits for autistic children and adults, and the results of integrating drumming into a treatment plan or IEP within a school can make a world of difference in the overall wellness of those with autism, as well as family and caregivers.
Because of the spectrum of autism involved, no two people affected by autism display the same type or severity of issues with communication, social skills or sensory problems. Other, atypical, non-autistic problems can also arise in addition to the “regular” behaviors associated with autism, making the ability to standardize treatment for these individuals difficult. Drumming may be one of the better methods to begin reaching those with an ASD, as it naturally allows for a wide range of abilities, both physical and mental, yet provides the same type of benefit to those tapping out a rhythm on a Djembe or bongos. Since music and rhythm are well known to help with other wellness issues within the brain, such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, stress, anxiety or depression, drumming has naturally become a method to reach into the minds of those with different levels of communication skills and abilities.With the repetitive nature of many autistic individuals, this rhythm can be a soothing way to connect with others, either in a one-on-one, therapeutic session, or within a group. Allowing the rhythm to take over, many therapists and teachers have seen drumming as a source of communication, and it can even serve as a way to model more difficult verbal interactions and responses.
For the parent, teacher or case manager responsible for the care of 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 more than great music, but also a way to interpret communications and improve functioning within a cooperative group environment. In addition to communication and cooperation skills, drumming can help reach the creative, right side of the brain that also helps stimulate socialization.
The “voice” of drumming can also be a tool to help ASD adults and children express emotion. Through the speed and volume of rhythm, emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, happiness and many others can easily be translated through the striking of a drum head. The tactile nature of drumming, as well, can create a canvas of sorts that stimulates the mind and body, perhaps even helping to connect the two together in ways that may be slower for those on the spectrum.
Not every child or adult with autism can be helped with drumming, but as an alternative therapy, it has the potential to make a difference in many ways. From communication and creativity, to teaching social skills, promoting socialization and providing the benefits of music and rhythm on the brain, drumming can be seen as a powerful tool in the struggle to meet the needs of children and adults affected by autism.