An Intervention for Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders
Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI) is a music therapy program utilizing recorded hand drumming rhythms to stimulate the central nervous system and improve brain function. It is mainly used for people with developmental delays, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorders. REI often facilitates both short-term and long-term improvement in a variety of symptoms common to neurobiological disorders. It consists of a forty-minute recording played as background music. REI contains complex, unusual drumming rhythms that address specific behavioral and cognitive areas. Each client receives an individualized recording designed specifically for his/her needs.
REI was derived from two ancient rhythmic drumming techniques: shamanic drumming and rhythm healing. Both use specific rhythmic drumming patterns to influence the body to bring about healing.
Drumming rhythms can influence the human body because of a phenomenon of nature called entrainment. Entrainment is defined as a synchronization of two or more rhythmic cycles and was first discovered by Dutch scientist Christian Huygens in 1665. While working on the design of the pendulum clock, Huygens found that when he placed two of them on a wall near each other and started them at different times, they would eventually end up ticking in unison. Entrainment has been found to be a force in nature that acts on two or more vibrating bodies as long as they have similar rhythmic cycles.
Entrainment of biological rhythms has been documented in many areas. For example, respiration and heart-rates have been shown to be entrained by sound; motor movements can be entrained by an auditory stimulus; subtle body movements of people in conversation will synchronize; and brain waves can be entrained by listening to an auditory rhythm.
Variable rhythms, such as those used in REI, have shown additional benefits for the nervous system. In numerous studies, rhythm has been shown to energize the nervous system, increasing neuronal activity and exciting the entire brain region, even in people with severe neurological disorders. An unpredictable or varying rhythm causes the nervous system to activate in an apparent effort to decipher it and find a pattern. This can enhance teaming and creativity.
The REI program is created specifically for each client. When making an REI recording, many aspects of the individual’s behavioral and cognitive characteristics are taken into account through an in-depth intake interview. The rhythms chosen for each client tape address such areas as language and communication skills, self-stimulatory behavior, attention span, aggression, and anxiety.
REI recordings are played once a day in the client’s home for a period of eight weeks. As with any treatment, improvement varies from one individual to another. Results generally start appearing as developmental gains after three to four weeks and can continue for many months, even if the recording is discontinued after eight-weeks.
REI is also available in the form of a more generalized recording, Calming Rhythms, designed to temporarily calm and focus as well as activate and energize. Calming Rhythms is effective in alleviating tantrums or emotional outbursts. It aids with sleeping, transitions, focusing, and maintaining attention. It can be effective for some clients in supporting speech therapy and sensory integration exercises when played quietly in the background during these times.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What if a family cannot play the recording every day?
It’s OK to miss a day or two during the eight weeks. However, research has shown that if the recording is played fewer than three times per week, the changes, if any, are often insignificant. Daily playing of the recording is optimal.
Q: Can the recording be played more than once a day?
Yes. Many families play the rhythms more than once a day. This can be especially beneficial if your child is highly anxious or displays significant anxiety-based behaviors.
Q: What if a child won’t sit for forty minutes to listen to the tape?
The REI recording doesn’t require active listening. Just play it softly in the background while the child is within earshot. He or she can play, read, eat, sleep, or do just about anything except watch TV or listen to other music while rhythms are playing.
Q: If a family is using other therapies with their child, do those therapies need to be stopped to do REI?
No. We highly recommend using the REI recording while doing other therapy programs. We’ve seen some evidence of increased learning and focusing skills while the recording is played.
Q: What is the Calming Rhythms audio?
This is a safe and effective calming and focusing aid for people with developmental disabilities. It has been shown to help alleviate anxiety and aggression in children with autism, ADHD, and related developmental disabilities. It can be played for groups or individuals and has been successfully used by teachers, therapists, and families. [Cassette $28; CD $30; includes shipping and handling in the U.S. S1 extra for international orders. -Ed.]
Q: Can headphones be used?
We strongly advise against the use of headphones for the REI recording. This is mainly because percussion instruments record with a very sharp auditory signal and what may sound like a normal volume may actually be damaging to the ears. If headphones must be used for a child, we recommend that volume be carefully monitored throughout the listening period.
Q: Can the recording be used after the eight weeks are up?
Yes. Most families continue playing the recording after the initial eight weeks. This is mainly because they’ve developed a routine, and their child enjoys it.
What’s it Like? A Parent Shared This Description
About a year ago, when Dustyn was 10, we obtained an REI tape designed for him. We continue to play it every day, and I believe it has been very beneficial for him.
Dustyn is autistic, with significant developmental delays, and his language has always been quite limited. At the time we obtained the tape, he engaged in very little interaction with others. He would look at people but did not respond to their emotions. I was pretty skeptical that something like this could help him, but we tried it because it seemed noninvasive and was not too costly.
I’ll never forget the first time we played the tape. Dustyn stopped what he was doing, went over to the tape player, and just stood for twenty full minutes. It was amazing to see him respond so strongly. We played it each day as directed. Over the next few weeks, we noticed changes in Dustyn: He became more aware of the feelings of others, was more affectionate, and could stay on task longer. During this period, he was taking his usual speech classes and occupational therapy; we were not doing anything special, Neither his therapist nor his teacher knew we were trying something new, but they both noticed a difference and mentioned it. The best way I can describe it is that he went through an “awakening.” He then seemed to go through developmental stages that he had somehow missed along the way.
I don’t want to suggest that this was a cure-all. Dustyn still has major delays, and we are always looking for new ways to meet his needs. I guess I could say that he has a tong way to go, but the REI tape has made the trip shorter. It was worth every penny.
— R Thompson, Florida
Jeff Strong is recognized as a pioneer in the use of rhythmic drumming for individuals with neurobiological disorders, and is the author of the upcoming book: The Healing Power of Drumming. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on developmental delays and autism,’ and serves as a faculty member at international Society for Music in Medicine symposiums.
For additional information on Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention, contact the REI Institute: reiinstitute.com
The REI program consists of a forty-minute recording of Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention drumming rhythms, custom-designed and recorded. The program is easily administered by playing the recording once a day for eight weeks in the home.