Drumming Helps Children with Autism

Drumming for 60 minutes a week can benefit children diagnosed with autism and supports learning at school, according to a new scientific study by the University of Chichester.

The study shows pupils’ ability to follow instructions improved after 10 weeks with significant improvements in rhythm, timing and dexterity being highlighted in the report. The project showed students’ ability to follow their teachers’ instructions improved significantly and enhanced their social interactions between peers and members of school staff.

Autistic child learning to play drums

What did the research involve?

Research was centered around pupils from Milestone School in Gloucester who took part in a ten-week drumming programme comprising two 30-minute sessions each week. Classroom observations were conducted which looked at the children’s responses to musical technicalities including rhythm and timing. Class teachers evaluated behavioural changes within the classroom across the ten-week drumming intervention, with preliminary evidence highlighting positive outcomes. Each lesson was delivered by drumming tutors using electronic drum kits provided by charities in Gloucestershire.

The focus of the sessions was on learning and having fun while playing to popular songs. An in-depth explanation of key findings related to changes in social, behavioural, and motor control will be reported following the completion of on-going data analysis.

What was the outcome of the study?

The intense course proved to be successful in strengthening understanding of beats and melody as well as vastly improving movement control while playing the drums. Movement control was enhanced while performing daily tasks outside the school environment, including an improved ability to concentrate during homework. A range of positive changes in behaviour within school environment, which were observed and reported by teachers, such as improved concentration and enhanced communication with peers and adults.

Autistic children playing the drums

Lead researcher Dr Marcus Smith, a Reader in Sport and Exercise Physiology at University of Chichester said: “This is a unique and remarkable research project that has demonstrated the positive impact on a pupil’s health and well-being following rock drumming practice.” What’s more, the benefits raised in this study do not apply only to students with autism; Dr Smith went on to say “Rock drumming can be a potent intervention for individuals experiencing brain disorders of all kinds.”

Although a number of studies over the years have made headlines with similar claims, the Clem Burke Drumming Project’s ten years of research into the effects of drumming on brain health and behaviour give this study particular weight. Still, as always in scientific research, more evidence can help refine the applications. Another researcher in the study, Dr. Ruth Lowry, sounds both excited and cautiously optimistic in her assessment of the findings, expressing hopes that more research will “provide further evidence that not only does rock drumming have positive benefits in terms of changes in dexterity and concentration but that wider social benefits can be observed.”

Autistic child playing the drums

In time, the evidence presented in this study as well as the research conducted in other high profile projects can bring about meaningful and transformative change to the methods we adopt in teaching children who are on the autistic spectrum; a challenging feat, but one worthwhile nonetheless.