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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Thomas

ADHD and Music Therapy

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects children and adults. Chances are, you know or know of someone who has ADHD. It's one of the most commonly diagnosed neuro-divergencies these days, and affects between 6-9% of school aged children. It is typically seen more in males, but is notorious for being overlooked in females. ADHD can be classified in three different ways: inattentive, hyperactive, or combined. The inattentive classification used to be classified as ADD, but all three types are now just classified as ADHD. If you or your child has ADHD, you know that it can be an incredibly challenging condition to live with. However, there are many different types of ADHD treatment available today - including music therapy, which is often overlooked in ADHD management. In this post, we'll explore how music therapy helps people cope with ADHD symptoms, as well as the benefits associated with this type of treatment.

So what is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is a neurodiversity that presents with many varying symptoms, most of which affect skills like attention, impulsivity and activity levels. ADHD is a neurological disorder that can be treated with medication and a variety of therapies, but it is not something that can be 'cured'; rather, people with ADHD can find ways to manage their ADHD symptoms through medication and therapeutic input.

ADHD is characterized by difficulty focusing on tasks, difficulty controlling impulsive behaviours and hyperactive tendencies. An alternative way to view ADHD is to see these symptoms as positive character traits that can be very useful in many jobs and life situations - they just need to be managed in a way that allows the positive benefits to be utilised and minimises any negative effects on the persons' life. Some of the characteristics of people with ADHD are:

  • Difficulty sustaining attention

  • Appearing not to listen

  • Difficulty with organisation and finishing things

  • Easily distracted or forgetful

  • Avoiding tasks that require a lot of cognitive engagement

  • Fidgeting

  • Very active and unable to sit still

  • Difficulty being quiet

  • Interrupting others

  • Impulsivity

  • Difficulty taking turns or waiting their turn

These characteristics will vary from person to person, and will occur in varying degrees of intensity.

How can ADHD be treated?

There are a few different medications that can be helpful for ADHD management, and these target brain chemistry to help manage symptoms. In a neurotypical person, executive functions such as focusing and learning are conducted in the pre-frontal cortex. There are 2 hormones that help with these tasks, dopamine and norepinephrine. When these are released in the brain, concentration and other executive functions are made possible, and allow the person to concentrate for longer periods of time. In an ADHD brain, dopamine and norepinephrine are more rapidly absorbed, meaning that they don't stay in the brain long enough for the person to concentrate on one thing for extended amounts of time. ADHD medication works by targeting dopamine and norepinephrine receptors and slowing down the uptake, which allows dopamine and norepinephrine to stay in the brain longer, thereby minimising ADHD symptoms.

Therapy is also a helpful way for people with ADHD to learn to manage their symptoms, and this can be especially helpful for those who experience negative side effects from medication. Sometimes, these medications can cause drowsiness or 'dulling' of the senses in people with ADHD, making them feel like they're not fully themselves. For these people, therapy can be a much more helpful solution. Behavioural therapies can be helpful in teaching people with ADHD skills like planning, mental structuring and learning to deal with their distractible nature.

So how can music therapy help?

Music therapy is a very effective tool for those with ADHD for many reasons.

  • Music is a very structural art form. It combines rhythm and timing and has a predictable, repetitive structure through repeated sections and a steady beat. This structure can be helpful in regulating an ADHD brain, as it gives it something steady and rhythmic to latch on to.

  • Music causes major dopamine release in the brain, as engaging in music requires the whole brain's attention, and this means that many different neural pathways are utilised in processing musical inputs. This dopamine release, as we learned in the previous section, can be helpful as ADHD brains are often lacking enough dopamine to complete daily functions. Musical engagement can help this.

  • Music can be used to affect mood. Often, auditory stimulation can be too much for someone with ADHD and can be overwhelming. In this instance, listening to slower, more peaceful music could be very helpful in bringing someone down to a calmer, more relaxed state. Alternately, energetic music can be used to help burn off extra energy and also create enjoyment. Changing the tempo of music can also refocus someone with ADHD, as it gives the brain a difference in pace to re-tune into.

  • Music can also be helpful in creating routines or allowing people with ADHD to focus. Creating a structured playlist of soothing music for your bed time routine can trigger the brain to subconsciously start winding down in preparation for sleep, or a playlist of preferred music could be used to help focus while studying.

All of these benefits and more can be see through engagement with music therapy, and we can help to create tools and practices for your daily life that will help to utilise your ADHD characteristics to help you, not hinder you. If you or your child struggles with ADHD and would like to see how music therapy could be helpful for you, get in touch with us today and we can get started on meeting your health and wellness goals through music.

Thanks for reading, your support is much appreciated and I hope you'll come back next month to learn more. As always, feel free to get in touch for more information or leave a comment below, I'd love to hear from you! If you're not already subscribed to my mailing list, please join up to receive monthly updates on Thrive and to stay up to date with the blog.

Thanks again, and I'll see you next month!


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