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Music Therapy: Medicine for ADHD
From mood-elevating to treating Alzheimer’s disease, music has a variety of benefits to mental health and well-being. Research suggests that music triggers the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that activate areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and stress relief. Simply put, music makes us all happier.
In that sense, any type of mental and behavioural disorder can be to some extent treated with music therapy, or at least include music as an effective complement to cognitive therapy.
For children who struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), music therapy has shown to help with improving attention and focus, reducing hyperactivity, and enhancing social skills.
The science behind music
Research shows that pleasurable music increases dopamine levels in the brain. This neurotransmitter — responsible for regulating attention, working memory, and motivation — is in low supply in ADHD brains, making the brain lack connections. Music therapy thus reinforces those connections and helps in achieving more constant focus and improved attention over time.
It sounds fancy, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help nerves transmit signals. When these chemicals are low, the brain becomes sluggish. Music has been shown to increase this powerful and necessary fuel and fire up the brain. It taps into left and right brain hemispheres, engaging both the left brain (logic, structure, and rhythm), and the right brain (creative, imaginary, and spatial aspects). The goal of music therapy is to practice these brain muscles to help overall function.
Music and focus
Although the magical powers of music therapy are still practically a mystery in terms of its healing effect on mental disorders, in practice it proves to have a profound meaning in ADHD treatment.
Music works on our emotional center, giving us a calming effect. When we’re calmer, we tend to think better a focus more successfully. With improved focus, the learning and understanding processes come easier and quicker. A calmer brain leads to a quicker response in every sense.
For children with ADHD, improved focus means a great step towards effective treatment.
Improved social skills and self-esteem
Playing music with other children is a wonderful way for your child to gain confidence in his interactions with others. Kids enjoy singing along, dancing, picking up on cues and taking turns. These skills are useful for teaching your child the importance of socialization and the encouraging effect of being engaged in a group activity.
The soothing nature of appealing music can have a calming effect on a nervous, stressed-out child. Unfortunately, one of the common symptoms of ADHD is high levels of anxiety and restlessness, fidgeting and nervous movement, sometimes even including tics. Music gives the brain a momentary purpose, something to focus on in an easy, natural and fun way. The more your child is exposed to it, the more the brain will associate music with an improved attention span and relaxation.
Can I help my child fight ADHD with music?
While children with ADHD can benefit from sessions with a certified music therapist, it’s not the only way to incorporate music therapy into their lives. There are simple ways to naturally include music as a means of dealing with the disorder.
People with ADHD are more sensitive to auditory and visual stimulation and struggle to zone out when necessary. What parents should consider as a primary thing to do is improve work on their children’s focus. Your job is to make sure the environment is suitable for improving attention and free of constant distractions
Ditch the TV altogether
Unlimited media use is generally associated with negative influence on memory, focus and sleep quality. Everyday binge-watching for more than 4 hours can speed up overall brain function decline. Letting children watch TV too much can be harmful for developing healthy social skills and working habits, not to mention patience and discipline.
Instead of drawing your kid’s attention to a violent cartoon, try playing some tunes on a daily basis as a background noise. Hearing songs of varying rhythms can slow down or speed up your child’s mental and physical processes. By picking songs carefully, you can help your child experience an intuitive, neurological reaction that they aren’t even aware of. Play some fast-rhythm melodies to make them burn off excess energy through dancing, or help them relax with a slow-pace ballad.
Use music as a powerful tool for battling everyday struggles
Normal functioning for ADHD children is sometimes hard work. Simple tasks like getting dressed or eating dinner can cause meltdowns and emotional outbursts. Music in these cases can help with a worked up child.
Consider having it on around the house during the morning or nighttime routine. Have it on while playing games, or put some in the background while having lunch. Who knows, maybe a little music might shift your kid’s attention to singing along and dancing.
Follow your child’s wishes – they are always the right choice
We all have preconceptions about many things that don’t actually need to be done in the same way all the time. We were all somehow taught that effective learning can be done only in a quiet and undisturbed environment.
There’s no right way to learn, the only important thing is that it works. If your child finds it easier to dance and draw while focusing on a lesson, so be it. Maybe you enjoy a quiet Mozart in the background, but your child likes loud Lady Gaga and that’s OK. As parents, we need to be able to truly understand what makes our children happy and fulfilled, what works best for THEM, not US. In this way we’ll always know how and where to find proper solutions and in a healthy way be there for them whenever needed.
Simon Dupree has discovered he has a passion for music from a very young age. Ever since then, music has been an essential part of his life. When he is not practicing, he`s probably behind the keyboard writing for Music Groupies.