Drumming for 90 minutes a week ‘improves quality of life’ for autistic people

·2-min read

Drumming for as little as 90 minutes a week can improve quality of life for autistic children, according to a scientific study backed by a veteran rock and roll musician.

Scientists including experts from the University of Chichester, West Sussex, found that learning to play the instrument tuned brain networks in autistic children in as little as eight weeks.

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition characterised by poor social skills and interactions as well as restricted and repetitive interests and activities.

As part of the study, seen early by the PA news agency, participants with no drumming experience were given two 45-minute lessons each week for two months.

Drumming for 90 minutes each week helps autistic children overcome hyperactivity and attention deficit difficulties, according to new study
Drumming tuned brain networks in autistic children (University of Chichester/PA)

The volunteers, aged 16-20, undertook a drumming assessment and MRI scan before and after the intervention, while their guardians were asked by the researchers about recent behavioural difficulties.

Results showed that participants who improved their drumming skills showed fewer signs of hyperactivity, inattention and repetitive behaviours and demonstrated better control of their emotions.

MRI scans revealed changes to their brain function which were linked to overall behaviour.

The study was carried out by experts from the universities of Chichester, King’s College London, Hartpury and Essex, working under the Clem Burke Drumming Project, named after its co-founding member and Blondie drummer.

Co-author Marcus Smith, a professor of applied sport and exercise science at Chichester, said: “These findings provide direct evidence that learning to drum leads to positive changes in brain function and behaviour among autistic adolescents.

“We are now sharing our results with education providers in special and mainstream UK schools who are responsible for the physical and mental development of vulnerable people.”

Researchers leading the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that after drum training adolescents had improved synchronicity between brain regions responsible for inhibitory control, which prevents impulsivity.

They said this highlights the central role of the prefrontal cortex in regulating motor impulsivity.

The paper is available on the PNAS website.

Scientists from the Clem Burke Drumming Project will be speaking about the study at a conference on Wednesday July 13, hosted at the University of Chichester, with free tickets available online.

The team also intend to expand their drumming research and are looking to collaborate with schools or organisations working with people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia, dementia and traumatic brain injury.

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