If you or someone you know has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you’ll know what a complex and debilitating condition it can be. It affects almost 10% of children in the US, with boys four times more likely to have it than girls and the rate of diagnosis steadily increasing (for reasons unknown). Most children are diagnosed at around seven years old (although the condition can show itself much earlier). While some children do grow out of it, around 4% of adults continue to show symptoms.
Hyperactivity is a common symptom, resulting in difficulties with sitting still, concentrating, focusing and learning. Hyperactive ADHD patients are often restless and prefer noisy active tasks to quiet, sedate ones. Inattention is also a major symptom, causing issues with listening and following instructions, frequently losing items and problems with timekeeping and information processing. Some ADHD patients have both sets of symptoms.
Naturally, all of these manifestations be severely disruptive to everyday life, schooling, and independent living—and it’s perhaps unsurprising that many parents decide to tackle the symptoms with medication like Ritalin. However, many others are concerned about the long-term effects of this approach, and there has been much investigation into possible alternatives. Interestingly, music has been shown to have a beneficial effect on those with managing ADHD. Let’s look at the major reasons why this is the case.
Being able to synchronize our movements is critical to a myriad of daily situations— just think about the synchronicity needed to drive a car, carry on a conversation or play sports. Kids with managing ADHD find synchronization hard, but studies have shown that playing a musical instrument in a group (e.g. a percussion ensemble) can greatly enhance this skill, and has been shown to improve cognitive test results.
It’s well recognized that moving the body can aid many vital functions, such as concentration and memory. Responding to music in the form of dance or exercise routines can increase alertness; scientists believe this is because it stimulates the nervous system in a similar way to Ritalin. ADHD patients must concentrate hard on sitting still, shifting their attention away from other things (such as concentrating on learning).
The ability to focus is essential to everyday life. Learning at school requires a huge focus, as do practical tasks like plumbing or completing a grocery shopping trip. It’s impossible to socially interact with others without focusing on their conversation. Learning a musical instrument and performing with others both help to enhance the focus required for such tasks.
Our brains process millions of bits of information at lightning speed every day, but if this function is impaired (as it is in ADHD patients), it can have serious consequences. The ability to process sounds is critical to early speech development, which in turn is an essential building block for reading. Playing an instrument helps the brain to practice processing a multitude of signals simultaneously, such as breathing, fingering, music reading and posture—preparing it for other learning.
5. Filtering out distractions
For the average person, external sources (such as the sound of the TV or listening to music) can interfere with concentration and learning. However, research proves that patients with managing ADHD can actively benefit from listening to music when studying because it helps filter out distractions around them. Sounds like traffic noise, conversations, and just general hubbub can all impose on focus and concentration, so listening to music can literally filter these out.
6. Social skills
Because of the difficulties they face—and their sometimes disruptive behaviors—patients with managing ADHD can often feel isolated from others and find developing social skills a challenge. Playing in an orchestra, singing in a choir or performing in a dance troupe, can all help to build positive relationships with others through a shared activity. For example, one study showed that regular music therapy sessions helped boys in a residential setting relate better to others.
Last but not least, becoming a top-notch saxophone player or a sizzling hip-hop dancer can do wonders to boost the social standing and self-esteem of someone with managing ADHD. Different behaviors can sometimes leave ADHD sufferers ostracized, but this can be countered if they’re able to let a particular skill set shine, rather than relying on academic performance or sporting prowess to gain popularity.