The Effect of Learning to Drum on Behaviour and Brain Function in Autistic Adolescents

Marie-Stephanie Cahart, Ali Amad, Stephen B. Draper, Ruth G. Lowry, Luigi Marino, Cornelia Carey, Cedric E. Ginestet, Marcus S. Smith, Steve C. R. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review


This current study aimed to investigate the impact of drum training on behaviour and brain function in autistic adolescents with no prior drumming experience. Thirty-six autistic adolescents were recruited and randomly assigned to one of two groups. The drum group received individual drum tuition (two lessons per week over an eight-week period) while the control group did not. All participants attended a testing session pre and post the eight-week period. Each session included a drumming assessment, an MRI scan and a parent completing questionnaires relating to the participants’ behavioural difficulties. Results showed that improvements in drumming performance were associated with a significant reduction in hyperactivity and inattention difficulties in drummers compared to controls. The fMRI results demonstrated increased functional connectivity in brain areas responsible for inhibitory control, action outcomes monitoring and self-regulation. In particular, seed-to-voxel analyses revealed an increased functional connectivity in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. A multivariate pattern analysis demonstrated significant changes in the medial frontal cortex, the left and right paracingulate cortex, the subcallosal cortex, the left frontal pole, the caudate and the left nucleus accumbens. In conclusion, this is the first study to investigate the impact of a drum-based intervention on neural and behavioural outcomes in autistic adolescents. We hope that these findings will inform further research and trials into the potential use of drum-based interventions in benefitting clinical populations with inhibition-related disorders and emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Mar 2022


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