to James Durbin
Music: Sound Medicine for
Durbin does not have ADHD. But growing up with both
Asperger's and Tourette syndromes, he suffered involuntary facial
tics and debilitating social skills that made him a punching
bag for bullies.
"I was teased, bullied, and picked on for being different,"
says Durbin, 22, the third runner-up on the 2011 season of American
Idol. "Music was my shell. Inside, I could create a world
as happy or as sad as I wanted, and no one could tell me differently."
Though he loved and mastered music from a young age, Durbin
didn't learn to perform with others until he joined Kids on
Broadway, a community theater group in his hometown of Santa
Cruz, California. When he landed the lead in a 2006 production
of Grease, Durbin spent rehearsals avoiding eye contact and
holding back rages. Five years later, he was performing solos
and group numbers for nearly 20 million American Idol viewers
"I learned a lot about myself, and it made me stronger,"
says Durbin of his teen years in community theater and music
education. "For me, the answer was music. But I say search
yourself, search the world, and find what you love -- that is
what will ease the pain."
Parents, take note: music therapy builds better focus, self-control,
and social skills in kids with attention deficit.
by Anni Layne Rodgers
the brain so extensively as music," says Oliver Sacks, M.D.,
professor of neurology at Columbia University and author of Musicophilia.
He should know. Sacks has documented the power of music to arouse
movement in paralyzed Parkinson's patients, to calm the tics of Tourette
syndrome, and to vault the neural breaches of autism. His belief that
music can heal the brain is gaining favor, thanks, in part, to Gabrielle
In January 2011, the Arizona congresswoman survived a gunshot wound
to her left temple. Because language is controlled by the brain's
left hemisphere, Giffords was unable to speak. As part of her arduous
recovery, she worked with a music therapist, who trained her to engage
the right side of her brain -- pairing words with melody and rhythm
-- to bring back speech.
"She was able to sing a word before she could speak a word, and
the damaged areas of her brain were circumvented through music,"
says Concetta Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music
and Neurologic Function. "Now the neuroscience community is saying,
'Yes, the brain changes' and 'Yes, auditory stimulation can help those
Therapy That Plays Well
Music therapy is used to
help victims of severe brain trauma, children on the autism spectrum,
and seniors suffering from Alzheimer's disease. For children with
ADHD, music therapy bolsters attention and focus, reduces hyperactivity,
and strengthens social skills.
How does it work?
MUSIC PROVIDES STRUCTURE.
Music is rhythm, rhythm is structure, and structure is soothing to
an ADHD brain struggling to regulate itself to stay on a linear path.
"Music exists in time, with a clear beginning, middle, and end,"
says Kirsten Hutchison, a music therapist at Music Works Northwest,
a nonprofit community music school near Seattle. "That structure
helps an ADHD child plan, anticipate, and react".
MUSIC FIRES UP SYNAPSES. 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. "Music shares neural networks with
other cognitive processes," says Patti Catalano, a neurologic
music therapist at Music Works Northwest. "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 activated brain muscles over
time to help overall function."
Just as Giffords used music to retrain her right brain to help her
to talk, ADHD children can use music to train their brains for stronger
focus and self-control in the classroom and at home.
MUSIC IS SOCIAL. "Think of an orchestra," says Tomaino,
a 30-year veteran in music therapy. "If one instrument is missing,
you can’t play the piece. All 'voices' are necessary."
This is what Hutchison teaches in "Social Skills Through Music,"
an eight-week course for children ages seven to 10. Students participate
in ensemble playing, write collaborative songs, and practice for an
"Students learn to listen, take turns, anticipate changes, and
pick up on cues in ways they might not do outside of a music-therapy
session," says Hutchison.