MUSIC TO THEIR EARS, HEARTS, AND BRAINS: Music therapy for children with ADHD


Oliver Sacks had been a longtime pioneer in neurology (you can see Robin Williams portray him in the 1990 movie, Awakenings). A large part of his studies included documenting the incredible power of music to stir movement in paralyzed Parkinsons patients, calm the tics of Tourette Syndrome, and to help children on the autism spectrum. Thanks to Sacks and his fellow devoted researchers in the industry, the value of music-as-therapy has been legitimized.
Music therapy is especially effective for children with ADHD. In addition to reducing hyperactivity, music therapy helps boost attention, improve focus and even strengthen social skills. There are two major ways music helps.

  • Stimulating synapses: The neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for memory, motivation and attention. Children who have ADHD have low levels of dopamine. Research has shown that pleasurable sounds whether from string instruments like guitar, violin and cello, percussion like drums or even the xylophone, or wind instruments like the trumpet and flute (or all of the above)increase our dopamine levels. Patti Catalano, neurologic music therapist says, Through brain imaging, we can see how music lights up the left and right lobes. The goal of music therapy is to build up those...over time to help overall function.

  • Providing structure: Children with ADHD struggle with unstructured activity. What is music? Rhythm. What is rhythm? Structure. For a brain seeking linear paths, the soothing structure of music provides an enormous amount of comfort.

We know that listening to music is helpful on so many levels. Learning to play a musical instrument is also therapeutic. By playing an instrument, you can be among the researchers and therapists bringing comfort to the hearts and minds of those who need it most.