Can Music Help Children with ADHD Focus While Studying?


Children with ADHD often have a hard time studying. While your impulse as a parent may be to use silence to help your child study, that may not be the best solution. Music offers certain benefits and may help your child focus.

The Battle of Focus in the ADHD Child

For the parent of a child with ADHD, homework and studying can easily become the most stressful parts of the day. For some children, the time of day they sit down to study spelling words may be the point at which their medication quits working. Sometimes it's a challenge because your child has been expected to sit quietly in a classroom all day and hasn't had an outlet to burn off the extra energy that comes with ADHD, so sitting and studying seems physically impossible. As a parent, your impulse may be to shut your child in a room with bare walls so there is nothing to distract them while they study. However, you may be missing the secret weapon in your arsenal: music.

Using Music to Increase Focus

For a child with ADHD, focus can be as elusive as trying to catch a cloud in your hand. That is because the brain of someone with ADHD is unique compared to an average person. For example, some people with ADHD have a smaller frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain that controls concentration and impulse control. The brains in people with ADHD tend to have less grey matter and may have different neural pathways controlling issues such as attention. Music can be a way to help children with ADHD concentrate and study even when all the wiring in their brain doesn't want to.

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With all of these challenges in the ADHD brain, your parental impulse can be to put your child in a quiet room with bare walls so they can concentrate. This is especially true if your child is easily distracted by every noise and flicker of light. That is a normal reaction to actually try and minimize the distractions for a child with ADHD. It is actually what teachers do quite frequently in the classroom when they have students with ADHD. However, for the ADHD brain music can actually help rather than be a distraction. That is because believe it or not, music can be chemistry to the brain. The reason is that music impacts the chemistry in the brain.

Your brain needs certain chemicals to help it focus. While for some children with ADHD this can be achieved by medication, which can have all sorts of side effects. However another strategy is actually to grant them their wish and let them plug in their headsets and listen to music. Music, unlike general noise, can cause the brain to produce more of the chemical dopamine. Listening to music has been shown to increase levels of dopamine in the brain. In the brain, it acts a motivation molecule because it helps the brain with all the functions it needs do for a person to actually be productive. These tasks include areas such regulating your attention so you can stay focused on the task. Dopamine also works to improve your working memory and even motivation to complete tasks. All areas you might need some help with when your child with ADHD has to study.

Mozart's Power over Concentration

Often parents of children with ADHD turn to medication to improve concentration. However, music can be a powerful tool for those with ADHD who need help in this area. The effect of music on the brain has been studied for decades. Certain studies involved measuring how the musical works of Mozart affect intelligence and focus. Some of these studies had children take keyboard lessons while others had people listen to music; researchers then measured the impact of music on one's ability to perform task-driven tests. The result became known as the 'Mozart Effect,' which suggests that music activates areas of the brain responsible for spatial reasoning and therefore improves performance in tasks that demand spatial-temporal reasoning.

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While Mozart gets the credit, it isn't so much the genre of the music that is going to help your child study. Some music, after all, is more distracting than helpful in the process. You may have to experiment a bit and find the type of music that works best for your child. For example, just letting them listening to a radio may create more distractions. You will need to experiment to find the type of music that works best for them. A good rule of thumb, however, is to avoid music with words where they may be tempted to sing along or have to listen to commercials. However, beyond that you could try any type of instrumental music, from traditional classics like Mozart to instrumental guitar music.

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Using Music as a Focus Tool

Don't assume that music is always a distraction for your child with ADHD because some music can make the brain work more effectively. Music can be a powerful tool to help your child focus and study. The powerful effect of music happens for many reasons. For example, music can increase the brain's production of the chemical dopamine. In the brain, the increased production of dopamine will help your child with ADHD focus and study more effectively. Music can also improve performance on spatial-temporal reasoning tasks and may help the child with ADHD tune out distractions.

Take some time and experiment with your special needs child to find the type of music that helps them focus best. Every ADHD mind is wired a little bit differently, so for one child classical music may help them focus and study while another may need some rock n' roll acoustic guitar. Then, once you find the perfect music for your child, make playlists for their device so that they always have music ready to help their brain focus when studying.

By Rachel Tustin
January 2020
k-12 learning with adhd

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