Drum Therapy for Autism

Courtesy: Studio10.asia

When I recently took my fifteen-year-old son with Asperger’s to his weekly therapy session, I was thrilled when he was offered the chance to participate in drum therapy. Instantly, I recalled the days when he was a toddler throwing a spectacular meltdown, beating himself with his fists until I set a drum in front of him and he pounded it instead. A broad smile came across his face as his frenetic energy transformed from self destructive behavior to music. 

Drum therapy is gaining in popularity as a means of reaching children with autism. For instance, The Drumming for Autism Project in New Jersey started as a “School Peacemaker” program to address the needs of youth through creative self expression then expanded to specifically address autism. The stated objectives of the project are increased and improved socialization and the reduction of anxiety and behavioral problems. Additional, some experts contend that drumming helps individuals access their right-brain which controls emotions, intuition, artistry and relaxation. This is of particular benefit to the child with autism and can provide a type of neurological re-patterning for a concrete thinker. 

Drum therapy encompasses hand/eye coordination, vestibular movement and visual perception. How to hold sticks, where to strike the instruments and necessary body movement are all part of an occupational therapy lesson come to life in a meaningful way.

Drumming also provides a functional activity that supports language skills such as categorization, sequencing, predicting, turn taking, listening, problem solving and following directions. The complexity and “call and response” action of drumming mimics and encourages human speech. The structure and repetition of drumming appeals to individuals on the autism spectrum and gives them an outlet for their emotions and a means to channel their energy. 

In starting your child’s drum therapy, be sure to give the teacher the heads-up about his or her particular strengths and deficits. learning style and triggers. One-to-one sessions are recommended as a starting point for them to garner the skills to later join a drumming group. Being part of an ensemble is a valuable experience for anyone, but especially for the child with autism challenged by social skill deficits. Finding people who share their special interests is the surest path to friendship for those with autism spectrum disorders.

While formalized drum therapy has its place, so does simply having a drum at home for your child or playing drums with them. How many times has it been said that children with autism march to the beat of a different drummer? Drumming helps them find and keep that beat.

16 Responses to Drum Therapy for Autism

  1. carl pauff says:

    So true! I use drumming in my SpecEd class all the time. Autistic kids, Downs kids, Globally delayed all enjoy it! Thanks for the great article!

  2. Susan says:

    Good for you! I wish more special ed teachers did this. Glad you liked the article…


  3. Jeff says:

    It seems like music therapy is always just getting started by never gains the traction it deserves. It’s been around forever, doesn’t cost much and appeals to everybody. Drum therapy is the best because everybody can beat a drum (some better than others) and once you get a small handful of kids going at it together, they really get into it. I wish more teachers did this too.

  4. Ben says:

    Great article! Any resources you can recommend for Drum Set Teachers with special needs students?

  5. Ben Potok says:

    I’ve gotten great feedback from parents of my drum students with autism and other special needs. See my website http://www.benpotoklessons.com under the testimonials tab.

  6. Tina Marie says:

    This melodic hand drum is having a huge success with my clients that have children with autism. The drum is a low tone, easy simple songs to play and the repition of the songs is stimulating…..Check out our website and contact me for more information….You will love this drum!

  7. Tina Marie says:


    They are made from old propane tanks – transformed in our workshop and custom finished with paint or metal!

  8. Susan says:

    Cool. Thanks for the info.

  9. artoyo says:

    i am interested with the programs, how can i get the way for that? thanks

  10. Susan says:

    Not knowing where you live, it’s hard for me to say. Probably the easier thing is a Google search for drum programs in your area.

  11. Kent Tonkin says:

    These approaches fall completely in line with some programs with which I am involved! I work at Saint Francis University, in Loretto, PA, where we have developed a research-based percussion intervention training program. This training was developed in conjunction with Jim Donovan, the founding drummer of the rock band Rusted Root. Jim is also our lead facilitator. We have been offering this training to both institutions and the public since 2011 and have several sessions planned for the summer and fall. Please drop by http://www.percussioninterventiontraining.com for more information!


  12. Susan says:

    Cool. Thanks for letting us know…

  13. Yes, I agree with the article. I am a drum circle facilitator & neuroscientist in Southern California and have been using drumming for a variety of neurological disorders, including, autism. I have observed drumming therapy to help individuals with autism better focus their disconnected thoughts and movement. And this in turn helps calm the brain and allows better use of other execute functions.

  14. Susan Moffitt says:

    Thanks for your input.

  15. I think that everything said made a great deal of sense. But, what about this?
    what if you added a little content? I am not suggesting your
    content is not solid., however suppose you added something
    that grabbed a person’s attention? I mean Drum Therapy for Autism | Autism Key is a little plain. You ought to peek at Yahoo’s home page and note how they create
    post headlines to get people to click. You might try adding
    a video or a pic or two to get readers interested about what
    you’ve written. Just my opinion, it could make your website a
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  16. It’s nice to hear of drumming therapy put to use. I’ve done some one to one drumming therapy with children with autism, and autism secondary to CP. I find a one to one to be really helpful in establishing a cooperative relationship with the child, and introducing them to the activity in a more controlled setting. This type of drumming therapy is much like EMDR therapy, and thus seems to offer many of the same benefits.

    I’ve also put on drumming events for quite a few groups of children. Children really like vocal work if you get a chance to include this. It calms them down. And I’ll offer two pieces of advice:

    1) Limit access to drum sticks; and
    2) Only have enough instruments out for one per child. Children in a group setting tend to become very empowered thru drumming. So, if you want to facilitate them, the few distractions then better.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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