By Charles Carpenter
Many childhood problems once written off as behavioral issues are today identified as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The Centers for Disease Control report that ADHD is a behavioral disorder that’s been diagnosed in more than 4 million children under the age of 18. Studies have found that children diagnosed with ADHD are at a considerably higher risk for depression, substance abuse, anxiety, behavioral problems and self-injury. Cognitive, dialectical behavioral and group therapy are often used to treat the disorder, and medication can help control its external manifestations. However, careful monitoring is needed and some ADHD patients don’t respond well to a prescriptive approach.
The power of music
Music therapy has long been used to treat people suffering from cognitive and behavioral issues. For children, it’s been proven effective at improving attention, bolstering social interaction, and sharpening mental focus. Music stimulates synaptic responses and increases levels of the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine, which children with ADHD do not have in sufficient supply. Music helps children who have ADHD achieve greater self-control in social situations and strengthens cognitive functioning. “Students learn to listen, take turns, anticipate changes, and pick up on cues in ways they might not do outside of a music-therapy session,” according to music therapist Kirsten Hutchinson. One especially popular approach is to involve children in group activities, including writing songs together and taking part in group performances.
Anyone can do it
One of the great things about music is that anyone can do it. Even small children exercise their creativity and imagination by forming impromptu bands with friends, banging on pots and pans, blowing whistles and having fun making and playing their own special instruments. Kids with ADHD are often very creative, a characteristic that music helps grow and nurture. They benefit from simple rhythmic activity in a number of ways, including improved motor skills and enhanced academic performance. Children who take part in music therapy also show signs of improved behavior and improved language skills.
Music every day
Playing music as a family can help children develop a lasting interest, even if it’s only for a few minutes every day. Skill level is immaterial: it’s the creation of sounds and rhythms that children with ADHD respond to so favorably. Creating playlists is another good way to include music into your child’s daily routine. Play songs that represent different styles, paces and melodic structure, and ask your child to pick out favorites, establishing a playlist that can be listened to while doing homework, cleaning a bedroom, riding in the car, or at mealtime. Encourage your child to write their own songs, and schedule a time every week for a family premiere.
Several well-known classical works are particularly effective in helping kids with ADHD improve their concentration. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto for Piano, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, and Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D are just a few. While this is an excellent starting places, remember that integrating music into your child’s day is ultimately about personalizing a list of songs that produce positive feelings and provide lasting cognitive benefits.
Buying an instrument
Finding an instrument for your child should be done with care and with the assistance of professionals at a reputable music store. If you’re looking for a clarinet, review this clarinet buying guide before purchasing. Consider the wide range of selections (more than 14 kinds of clarinet in all) before choosing one for your child, and the need to begin with a soft reed, the component which produces sound. As with any instrument, regular maintenance is needed and care should be taken as to where it’ll be stored (for example, very dry conditions can do damage to a clarinet).
Allowing your child to experiment with different styles of music and different instruments is important for developing cognitive and social skills that will help them cope with ADHD. Think of music as a universal language that not only transcends linguistic barriers, but can help overcome mental and behavioral conditions in children that slow development. Music benefits children with ADHD, and others suffering from cognitive problems, in ways that are only now being understood.
As you can see, there is plenty of evidence that music does more than soothe the soul. Children suffering with ADHD can use music to find their inner calm, make friends, and learn to navigate life with their condition. The positive effects of playing music can’t be denied; they can be seen, felt, and heard with each sweet and healing note.