Blondie drummer says music in UK schools helps autistic children

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Blondie drummer Clem Burke on Wednesday said adding drumming to the UK school curriculum could be a “game changer” for autistic children after a study found as little as 90 minutes a week offered benefits.

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A study conducted as part of the Clem Burke Drumming Project found children with the condition who learned to play the drums showed better control of their emotions and fewer signs of hyperactivity, inattention, and repetitive behavior.

“This landmark study is the first of its kind to show how the brain responds positively to drumming and how it can help children with autism and other social and emotional difficulties,” said Burke.

“Given the pressure schools are currently facing trying to deal with a huge rise in the number of children experiencing social and emotional problems and learning difficulties, adding short drumming sessions to the curriculum could be a game-changer at minimal cost and effort.”

US veteran musician Burke played at Glastonbury last month with Blondie, the legendary post-punk band that has been fronted by singer Debbie Harry since 1974.

British schools have more than 166,000 children with autism, an eight percent increase on 2020, government figures show.

Although 70 percent are in mainstream schools, research has found three-quarters of parents do not feel their child’s needs are fully met.

As part of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal last year, those aged 16-20 with no drumming experience were given two 45-minute lessons each week for two months.

They had MRI scans before and after the sessions, while their guardians were asked by the researchers about recent behavioral difficulties.

Results showed that those who improved their drumming skills saw an improvement in their condition.

MRI scans revealed changes to their brain function linked to overall behavior.

Ruth Lowry, an exercise psychology at the University of Essex and co-author of the study, said the research provided the first evidence of neurological adaptations from learning to play the drums, specifically for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

Further research is being conducted in schools around the UK to back up the initial findings and the work is being showcased at the UK’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition which runs until Sunday.

The Clem Burke Drumming Project was founded in 2008 by Burke and two academics at UK universities.

It initially set out to examine the physiological demands of playing live but grew into an exploration of the physical and mental health benefits of drumming.

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