A child with a drum set might seem like a parent’s worst nightmare. Hand a kid a pair of sticks and let them go to town on the world’s loudest instrument? That sounds like a shortcut to a migraine.
But drumming can have unique benefits, many of which are especially helpful to children with autism.
A study out of the University of Chichester and University Centre Hartpury (United Kingdom) found that drumming for 60 minutes a week can significantly improve social interactions with peers and teachers among children with autism.
For the study, students from Milestone School in Gloucester took part in a ten-week drumming program that included two 30-minute session per week. After the ten weeks, researchers observed that participants had improved dexterity, rhythm, and timing—in addition to improved concentration and social interactions.
Lead research Dr. Marcus Smith was delighted with the results. “Rock drumming as a potent intervention for individuals experiencing brain disorders, such as autism, is fascinating and I am delighted that it builds upon the pioneering work undertaken by colleagues from the Clem Burke Drumming Project,” he said. The Clem Burke Drumming Project hopes to demonstrate how musical instruments can benefits students who need additional educational support.
The study with the Milestone School students used electronic drum sets and focused on having fun while playing popular songs. But other drumming studies have seen benefits with a variety of drumming styles.
A 2009 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that counselor-led group drumming could help decrease the social and emotional repercussions of chronic stress in low-income children, and drumming wasn’t associated with the same stigma as therapy. An older study, from 1976 found that participating in a percussion “game” helped children with special needs improve social behaviors.
Various research has shown that drumming can have a positive effect on social behviors, grief coping, self-expression, self-esteem, and coordination in children and adults with and without disabilities.
Drumming is an inarguably accessible, physical, sensory, expressive, and (if done in a group) interactive activity. It doesn’t take any previous experience to play a drum or even participate in a drum circle.
Drumming in a group setting helps children work on cooperation and experience the satisfaction fo working together. A drum provides a form of communication for verbal and nonverbal people, and drumming can help develop motor skills—from simply working to keep the beat to the advanced coordination required to play complicated rhythms and styles. Depending on the drum and the intensity of the drumming, it can also develop fitness and lower body strength.
Drumming is also a great way to relieve stress. It’s the one of the few circumstances when beating on something is encouraged.
Dr. Steve Draper, researcher with the Milestone School study, said: “Drumming has a unique blend of physical activity, coordination and musicality, all of which are known to be beneficial to well-being. It has been amazing to watch the children thrive and develop to this challenge.”
While the studies are positive, and the anecdotal evidence is strong, it’s still to early to point to drumming as a cure-all to dexterity and communications challenges. Still, it’s an extremely accessible way for children and adults to relieve stress, connect with a group, and drop some serious beats.