Friday, June 4, 2010

Gathering Drum

I was looking at a big drum in a local import store and I thought I would like to have a big drum to try with my young friends at the clinic where I work. We are recipients of funds from a regional autism walk which is coming up in September.  So, I was thinking that perhaps I could buy a drum with those funds.  June, July, August, September (probably October by the time we get the money)--I thought that I could have a new drum in about five months.

The next day, the parent of a child at our clinic came into my office and asked if I thought we might be able to use a big drum in our clinic.  She brought a Gathering Drum in a week later-- so I only waited one week!

I already use some lovely lollipop drums in imitation games with children.  See the video clip of a drumming game on this page. I started out trying to use the big drum in a similar way--which is to say that I was planning to show the child a way to use the drums and then, whatever the child did with the drum, I would imitate the same behavior.  This is kind of what happened but there were some twists and turns and variations with the Gathering Drum that I did not expect.  I also found some unique opportunities with the Gathering Drum that everyone seemed to enjoy.

First Child: Amber was able to copy my simple drumming patterns.  Left hand, three hits, right hand two.  Left hand three hits, right hand two. We were soon drumming this rhythm out together.  I don't know much about drumming, you understand, but Amber and I were rocking out here and we both felt pretty cool.  Your turn!  I said to Amber.  You are the leader this time.  What should we do?  Amber started sliding her hands on the drum, making almost no sound at all.  I tried to copy her hand movements.  Then she put her hands up to her face.  I copied this.  She was delighted but I was disappointed. I thought we were doing a sound game but evidently, she was more interested in a visual imitation game.  That looks cool.  I said, but could you make it sound cool?  You could hit the drum.  She did hit the drum for a bit but soon slipped back to her hand movement game.  Curious, I thought.

Second Child: The second drummer did not want to drum at all with me--he wanted to play with wooden blocks on the drum.  He started stacking small wooden blocks up on the Gathering Drum and then, when he pounded on the drum with his hands, the blocks fell over.  That was fun--but also not what I was expecting.

Third Child: The next day, I used the drum to pound out the rhythm of a child jumping on my small  trampoline.  That worked out well because, ordinarily, when this nonverbal child starts jumping on the trampoline, he becomes completely focused on watching himself do this in front of a mirror.  This time, after he figured out the game, he shifted his attention to me before starting to jump and used his eye-gaze to communicate that he expected me to start drumming as he started jumping. He was stopping and starting his jumping in order to get me to start and stop drumming.

So, now you are caught up on the drumming adventure, thus far.  I will add more drumming events of interest as they occur.

Why Drum: I always explain to parents why I am drumming with their child and why they should drum with their child as well.  This needs to be explained because I am clearly not a very skilled drummer and a parent might wonder where this kind of drumming is going, given my obvious lack of talent.
  1. Drumming is fun.  Even for the unskilled--which I hope to demonstrate for the child since he or she is also unskilled but can have fun anyway.
  2. One of the most important early skills a child can learn is imitation--but this can be a very hard skill to learn for children who have trouble watching another person and doing what he or she did.  This is a motor planning difficulty--meaning that the child can't just watch another person and then make his or her body do the same thing.  Maybe some children don't imitate because they don't understand the highly social concept of imitation or it does not seem fun or interesting to imitate but I suspect it is really a combination of issues that make a child with autism less inclined toward imitation.  Imitating a child on a drum tends to interest the child in the whole concept of imitation.  If you use simple rhythms (start, stop, fast, slow,, hit the top of the drum then the bottom of the drum) most young children start to imitate adults in drumming.  From there, you can teach other games of imitation.
  3. When and if you get to the place that Amber and I did, and you can actually drum out a repeated rhythm over and over, the child has an opportunity to enjoy how it magnifies the experience if you do something like this together. This is a great social concept for a child with autism to learn.
  4. In the trampoline/drum activity, the child was feeling the power of being in control of a cause/effect activity.  The child is learning to shift attention between an activity and a play partner--another skill that is important if a child is ever to be able to play with peers. 
This list of why drumming is good could continue on and on--but perhaps this will be enough to convince you to wish for a drum.  If you are lucky, maybe one will magically appear for you too.


    Sue said...

    Hi Tahirih,
    I love all of your posts but this one really made me smile. The power of the drum to facilitate joint attention is amazing. I have seen this many times working with children in special education settings and in mainstream classes.
    Apologies for not having commented for a while but I read every single one of your posts and link them to my regional ASD support Nings every time you write one.
    Love your work :-)

    Tahirih said...

    Sue, I appreciate your encouragement. Thank you. It was good you made a comment on this one because I had not gone back to edit it and when I did, I found several little typos and a link that I had not included. Yikes! I am glad you enjoyed it anyway.

    Anonymous said...

    I loved this post, we are so happy it's getting the use it deserves. :)
    If I had one hundred drums I would give them to you, thank you for everything.
    PS What else are you wishing for?
    The Sershons

    Matthew Saunders said...

    Just stumbled across your site researching something I was writing on the Paper Jamz drumkit for our own blog form at and you've been added to my favourites!

    I hope you don't mind, but I've added a link to this piece in the article, because I think it illustrates the point I was trying to make far better than I ever could.