How UFO Drum music helps to treat children with autism, ADHD, anxiety and behavioral difficulties
Interview with Allison Davies, the author of the method.
UFO: Allison, I know that you use our UFO drum to treat children with autism and behavioral difficulties. Which specific problems do you help to solve?
Allison: One of the best things about the UFO drum is that it creates mindfulness, so no matter what behavioral problem children are struggling with, all behaviors are byproduct of what the brain is telling them to do, so when we play the UFO drum and they experience mindfulness, their brain calms down.
It helps to regulate, and so they are less inclined to be aggressive, to have difficult or risky behaviors.
So playing the UFO drum really helps to relax and regulate children, but also parents and the teachers that are there with them.
UFO: What task do you solve during the course of therapy? And how long does it take? What are the specific behavioral difficulties you’re solving? Do children become more calm?
Allison: Yeah. I use the UFO as part of anxiety management and to help with almost all the behaviors that children struggle.
And anxiety is when you’re… you know you’re confused, and scared and you’re thinking too much, and you’re all uptight, and you’re overwhelmed. It’s very common, almost everybody in the western world is experiencing anxiety because life is too fast, too busy, too overloading.
And more children are experiencing anxiety now than ever before, because we live is such an overloading fast western world. So I use the UFO drum to help manage anxiety, and children love the UFO drum. When I play it, it helps to regulate and calm down and slow their brain. But the important thing is that they need to play it for just a little bit every day. Because it’s a lifestyle that helps manage anxiety, not a one off session. And that’s why I love it when people buy their own UFO drums. When they have them at home they can have a little bit of a play each morning or each night, and it helps to keep them calm and regulated.
UFO: Can you tell us, brain care therapy, helping kids with behavioral difficulties, music therapy by itself, how did it come to your life, how did you find your mission? And what place does it take in your life now? It sounds more than a job.
Allison: Yeah, it’s so much more than a job. I’ve always loved music ever since I was a baby My first words were from songs. And I could not think very clearly as a child. I was always very confused, I couldn’t follow instructions, and the only thing that helped me really function was listening to music, or thinking about music, or playing music. And as an adult I found out I’m autistic, which is why I have trouble, you know, with functioning, executive functioning, and music has always been the one thing that really helps me to stay focused, make sense of things, be able to communicate well.
During my own life, I’ve experienced the power of the melody and rhythm in helping me to function of my best, and so it’s only really one thing I’ve ever been super passionate about.
UFO: Tell us please briefly the scientific basis of your treatment method. Why exactly music and pentatonic, why UFO drum? How did you pick those instruments that work for the therapy, or are you able to use any?
Allison: I love the UFO drum because it’s a pentatonic scale, so you can play any note in any order and it always sounds beautiful. And for children who are anxious or children who are used to not feeling like they can do a lot of things, or for children who are scared they are gonna fail, to be able to play an instrument that always sounds beautiful is really, really empowering.
Because they can’t make a mistake, so it always makes them feel good about themselves. The other thing is I’m very passionate about is age- and ability-inclusive instruments, so I want instruments that a baby can play and a person who’s a hundred can play, and you don’t need lessons at all. Because I think a lot of musical instruments are really exclusive, just for the people who are privileged enough to have lessons or be able to play complicated instruments. So this is an instrument that anyone can play, so this is why I love the UFO drum so much.
UFO: And about scientific bases of the therapy method, please.
Allison: I’m a neurologic music therapist and so I specialize in how the brain responds to music, and there is a lot of research to show the effect that melody, especially, has on the brain. And the UFO drum is a melodic instrument, so when you play it and you hear that beautiful melody, it activates the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that accesses your emotions, and that’s why you feel things when you hear it or play it. And it allows you to release emotions. Also, when you experience melody, more of your brain becomes active at the same time, that when you’re experiencing any other thing that’s ever been researched in the whole world.
And the research even shows that when you are just thinking about music in your head, still, all your brain is activated, as if you’re playing it or hearing it anywhere aloud.
So when you play the UFO drum or you listen to melody, or you make a melody, or even if you think about melody, all of your brain becomes active, and it’s when it starts becoming easier to function, to think clearly and to make decisions.
UFO: According to your experience, which tuning of UFO drum do children prefer or choose mostly?
Allison: Kids choice is almost always UFO Drum Sunrise. I think it’s just because of that playful, cheerful major scale. And children like a high pitch, and it’s high pitched.
And their moms always want the UFO Drum Full Moon. I think the Full Moon is more meditative and reflective, and so the grown-ups want that of minor scale, and the children want the major scale.
UFO: Could you please advise parents who do not have access to a professional specialist in your field, how can they independently help their kids using our instrument or any other instrument that is good for sound healing? Maybe they can do some easy practices at home that could really help?
Allison: Yeah. There is lots of things that we can do at home. There’s lots of ways we can use music therapeutically at home. The most important thing to remember is it needs to be as often as possible. So you can just play music or listen to music for a couple of minutes, for a few minutes here and there every day. As long as it’s part of your lifestyle, it would help to keep your brain regulated, which means less anxiety. Which means less behavioral problems. It’s also important to follow the child’s lead, so don’t try and teach them how to play it your way or tell them how you think they should be doing it. Let them express themselves however it comes out for them. Because that allows them to release emotion, and emotion needs to be released otherwise it becomes pinned up in our body, and if it becomes pinned up inside us that’s how we have meltdowns and explosions.
So just allowing them to be creative with the drum and allowing them to do it as often as possible, as part of your daily life is the best way.
UFO: Are you using some other arts as the way of artistic expression?
Allison: Yes. Moving the body, dancing. I think of music as not just music, but I think of music as a whole range of elements. Melody, rhythm, vibration, movement, volume, tempo, repetition. And so, all those things are essentially music. And so it’s really important to move, move your body. And it’s really important to create rhythms and pulses, and play loud and play soft, and just experiment with all different elements that make up music. All of them impact our brains in different ways, and all of them are really important in helping the brain to stay calm.
UFO: Are you using sound massage therapy in your practice?
Allison: I use sound. I use what I call musical massage in my own personal life, but not so much in my practice.
Not because it wouldn’t be beneficial, but because I live in a very small town where there is not a lot of people, and so I mostly work online now. While mainly teaching people how they can use music.
UFO: How do you develop communication skills in kids through the musical experience? How do you work with kids with ADHD or ASD? Do they play together? They have to?
Allison: I believe strongly in neurodiversity, so that is accepting all neurotypes, whether people are autistic, or have ADHD, or anxiety, or any other type of what we call neurodiversity.
So different types, different brain types. I never ever ever try and encourage autistic children to be like non-autistic children, so I’m never trying to create a forced communication… like I’m never trying to encourage children to talk. If children don’t talk, I then really encourage non-verbal communication, which is where instruments come in. And I always, always follow the children’s lead, so sort of trying work out with their act, and communicate on their level, rather than trying to change them to communicate on my level. And that’s the beauty of using instruments, because music is a language that has no barriers.
UFO: What do children like most about your therapy and what do parents like?
Allison: I think parents and children like it for the same reason, because it’s very fun. And out almost all the therapies that you take your children to, I think music therapy is probably the most fun. The most creative. And it doesn’t feel like therapy. It just feels like playing music together. So parents like to see their children having fun creative time. And they also love that children can be really, really good at making music and can make meaningful music. And so it’s a really beautiful thing for children to feel good about themselves for making beautiful music, and it’s really good for their parents to feel proud and excited, because their children are making meaningful music as well.
UFO: What is the most memorable experience in your sound healing practice?
Allison: The most exciting thing in my practice has been when I realized how important it was to teach parents, that they can use music therapeutically at home by themselves. For most of my career, I’ve worked as a therapist where they brought their children to me for therapy, and then a couple of years ago I stopped doing almost all of that and I just started doing online education, and that’s when I started really teaching parents how they can use music at home in their own lives. So that they can be the change-maker in their family, rather than always necessarily having to have a therapist. And that’s been the biggest highlight of my career, because parents are feeling really empowered and confident that they can support their children using music. And that’s really important, because usually when you’re taking your child to a therapist, you feel like you can’t support your child, the therapist is the only one that can do it the way they need it.
UFO: Would you give some professional advice to colleagues who work with children with similar problems, but have not previously used music therapy or have not used longue drums?
Allison: So there are music therapists already in the world in every country, so if you’re working with children who have complex needs, I would recommend that you find music therapists in your area, and start engaging with them. And if you’re working with children who don’t have complex needs, but are just needing a little bit of extra support, then you can introduce them to music and encourage them to experience music every day, knowing that it’s going to help keep them regulated in a way that may just support their own needs. But it’s very important to not try to incline too crazy with music, because it can trigger memories, it can trigger emotional outpourings. And if you aren’t a therapist or you are not trained in this area, it can be very difficult to know how to work with that in a session, and how to support a child through that. So it’s very important to touch base with a music therapist in your area if you’re really working with a child who has some complex needs.
One of my friends always remembers the situation when they tried to teach her music in a musical school and she was crying every day, because she couldn’t get results and didn’t really enjoy it. So it really traumatized her for the rest of her life. I think the children now are probably the first generation of children who don’t have that as we did. We have been taught to play instruments, and we had to get it right, and if we couldn’t synch tune we could feel like a failure, and finally believe that we could not be musical a lot. That’s why I’m very much more about not teaching instruments and teaching music, so they have to master it as a skill, but letting them creatively play it, so it’s just an outlet for expression, and I think that is very important. Because I think that this generation of children, hopefully, will be the first generation not thinking that they are not musical if they can’t play tune or can’t sing.