Drumming improves behavior and brain function in autistic adolescents

DRUMMING for just 90 minutes each week can improve the life quality of young people diagnosed with autism, a new study has revealed.

Scientists found that learning to play the instrument tuned brain networks in autistic adolescents in as little as eight weeks.

The study was undertaken by experts working under their collective group the Clem Burke Drumming Project, named after its co-founding member and famed Blondie musician.

Co-author 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.”

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

As part of the study, a group of participants with no drumming experience were given two 45-minute lessons each week across a two-month period. Each volunteer, aged between 16 and 20 years old, undertook a drumming assessment and MRI scan before and after the intervention, while their guardians were asked by the researchers about recent behavioral difficulties.

Results showed that participants who improved their drumming skills showed fewer signs of hyperactivity, inattention and repetitive behaviors and demonstrated better control of their emotions. MRI scans also revealed changes to their brain function which, according to the study, were linked to overall behavior.

A co-author, said the paper represents a landmark moment as the scientific team begins, through advanced imaging, to understand why drumming is such a profound stimulus.

The co-author added: “Over a number of years we have been made aware of cases of drumming benefitting individuals with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, and have subsequently worked with a number of individuals, schools and projects where we have seen first-hand the effects.”

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

Another author added: “The paper provides us with the first evidence of neurological adaptations from learning to play the drums, specifically for adolescents with an ASD diagnosis. This study endorses the changes we have measured and the observations of teachers and parents towards improvements to social skills, inhibitory control and attention.”

Lead author said: “This study not only revealed an improvement in behavioural outcomes in autistic adolescents following drum training, but also sheds light on associated changes in brain function. Increased synchronized activity was observed between brain regions that support mental wellbeing and help navigate social relationships.”