Rhythm or percussion instruments are any instruments that you can shake, hit or scrape to make a noise.
These instruments require force, eye-hand coordination, and motor skills, which is why investing in kids’ rhythm instruments is so important. Playing musical instruments is perfect for developing fine motor skills and developing gross motor skills. For those with autism spectrum disorder, developing these motor skills may be more delayed than in neurotypical children. That is why toys and instruments are highly beneficial for developing these skills.
The different musical instruments listed are highly beneficial for your autistic child to develop the proper motor skills, hand-eye coordination, impulse control, musical ability, and social skills.
How do rhythm instruments support children with autism?
Percussion instruments benefit kids with autism because these specific instruments need certain skills to play. Percussion instruments such as bells, drums, or xylophones, allow the player to have control when playing. Your child can decide how much weight to put behind, hit, or shake. This teaches them that hitting too hard will make a loud sound and they can decide whether they like that sound or not. Not to mention percussive instruments are great instruments to develop musical ability and they can be a great de-stressor used for mental health. Many percussive instruments are used during music therapy, and many schools offer classes to learn specific rhythmic instruments. This would have the added benefit of increasing social interaction and improving social skills.
According to a study by graduates of music therapy at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea on Dyadic Drum Playing and Social Skills: Implications for Rhythm-Mediated Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: “With regard to the social skills of individuals with ASD, several music interventions have been found to generate favorable outcomes in social attention, social engagement, initiation of social interaction and/or communicative behaviors, self-control, and emotional reciprocity.”
The instruments mentioned are fun to play, don’t have to be expensive, and develop fine motor skills and gross motor skills. That said, Autism Parenting Magazine is not affiliated with or endorsing any of the products mentioned below.
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Percussion instruments to consider
Sound ShapesⓇ Circle Drums
The Sound Shapes circle drums are colorful drumheads perfect for young kids who want to create music. These drums make a high-pitched noise when struck and are easy to use. The Sound Shape circle drums come in different colors and sizes and take up less space than regular drums. These circle drums are light and easy to move around, making it fun for autistic children to play around the house. These drums are good for developing hand-eye coordination and impulse control.
Handbells might sound like a nightmare to buy for a young child, but these instruments are highly beneficial rhythm instruments. Keep in mind that handbells come in different price ranges and can be quite pricey. Handbells for kids usually come in different colors and make a set of 8. Handbells are good for developing rhythm, physical coordination, and listening skills.
A piano or a keyboard make a popular percussive instrument but they can be quite expensive. That said there are plenty of inexpensive alternatives, especially for kids. Many children’s keyboards have fun features, such as the keys lighting up and making different funny sounds. A keyboard is a good gateway instrument for your child to start on if they want to play piano when they are older. Keyboards are good for fine motor skills and encourage creativity.
The cabasa comes in various sizes and is a wooden handheld instrument. The sound of the cabasa comes from a chain of cylindrical beads wrapped around wood that when shaken, the friction of the beads against each other invokes a sound similar to shakers, or if you have ever made a DIY shaker, rice in a pringles can. The cabasa is a fun instrument because the beads add sensation when rolled on the skin. The cabasa uses gross motor skills and strength to bring out the sound of the cabasa when shaken.
An ocean drum is a favorite among kids due to the gentle sound it makes. The ocean drum is aptly named because of the sound of the ocean it makes when beating the drum or slowly swerving the pellets around. The drum comes in various sizes but the inches generally stay the same. The ocean drum is a double-sided frame drum allowing kids to either hit with their hands on both sides or they can use mallets. The pellets that are inside the drum mimic the sound of the ocean and crashing waves, creating a soothing sound of gentle white noise.
Made with wood or plastic, castanets rely on the fingers to put pressure on the two shells to come together to create music. Castanets are fun and cheap little instruments that come in different fun colors or with pictures on them, and are easily portable. The castanets are great for supporting motor skills by isolating various finger movements. Castanets can be a great tool for self-regulation among autistic individuals.
A popular but expensive percussive instrument as mentioned before is the piano. If you are not looking to fork out thousands, a melodica is a great children’s instrument that practices breathing control and coordination. A melodica is a cross between a harmonica and a keyboard that produces fun sounds children will love. As kids navigate the keyboard part of the melodica, it becomes a great instrument for practicing fine motor skills.
Xylophones are a fun and popular instrument among children. Made out of wood, a children’s xylophone features a range of keys similar to a keyboard, except each key is a different color. Instead of fingers, the xylophone relies on the gross motor control of arm movement and wrist movements to tap the mallets on the keys, creating sound.
Percussion tubes or Boomwhackers are not widely used instruments, but they are extremely fun to play with, and benefit both kids and adults. Percussion tubes are hollow, color-coded tubes made out of plastic. Each tube makes a different note creating a musical sound when hit or tapped against something else, such as your leg or a table. Percussion tubes are a great instrument to judge a child’s energy and emotions without verbally saying anything. Percussion tubes can be an excellent instrument to support gross motor development and self-regulation.
The Ukulele is a great instrument for autistic children, for plenty of reasons. The small size makes it easier to handle than a full-sized guitar, they are able to be played right away instead of waiting to be tuned, and they come in many colors, making them a desirable instrument for kids. The ukulele is great for practicing hand-eye coordination, using fine motor skills when picking at the string, and develop gross motor skills when using the full arm to strum.
The violin is one of the toughest musical instruments to learn, but the benefits are incredible. The violin is perfect for sensory development, improving coordination, and increasing concentration. Many schools offer violin lessons for kids adding the benefit of increased social interaction. The violin might be challenging to learn but once learned it can be incredibly rewarding and a great confidence booster.
To end off
The benefits of kids with autism playing musical instruments are plenty. Rhythm instruments are popular among music therapists because many of the instruments develop fine and gross motor skills. Percussion instruments are perfect for developing hand-eye coordination, self-regulation, and increasing concentration in kids with autism. They also have the added benefit of being fun, increasing the likelihood that whatever instrument you buy will be played until you as a parent cannot handle the noise anymore, haha.
Ga Yeul Yoo, Su Ji Kim,(2018) Dyadic Drum Playing and Social Skills: Implications for Rhythm-Mediated Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Music Therapy.