How Islanders with intellectual disabilities are drumming up new skills

A group of young adults with intellectual disabilities on P.E.I. is beating the drums for fun — and to improve their job skills.

Group meets on Thursdays at Community Inclusions Centre in O'Leary, P.E.I.

Young adults bang the drums — and learn life skills — at Community Inclusions in O'Leary, P.E.I. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The young adults pounding drums in O'Leary, P.E.I., aren't just making noise.

They're learning life skills.

They drop by every Thursday to Community Inclusions, a non-profit centre that provides support for adults with intellectual disabilities. The more skills they can learn —  even simple skills such as knowing the difference between left and right — the better their chances at finding a job.

"It's not just about drums," said Natalie Horne-Gallant, the centre's employment counsellor. "It's about coming in and working on life and employability skills with our youth and working on gaining skills for employment.

Sara Shea of Tignish is one of the young adults who participates in the drumming sessions at Community Inclusions on Thursday nights. (Pat Martel/CBC)

In one of the exercises, participants must drum with either their left or right hand, depending on the pictures held up by Horne-Gallant.

If your boss is saying, "Oh, it's just on the shelf down on the right," knowing your right and your left apart is essential.— Natalie Horne-Gallant

"If your boss is saying, 'Oh, it's just on the shelf down on the right,' knowing your right and your left apart is essential,"  she said.

Of course, it's a skill that comes in handy in everyday life, as well, she said.

"Knowing your right from your left when you're on a bicycle and somebody says, 'Make a right turn,' you don't want to be driving into traffic." 

One of the exercises helps participants learn left from right. (Pat Martel/CBC)

The Rhythmic Arts Project was introduced in some P.E.I. schools in 2010 and proved to be a popular and effective way to teach children with intellectual disabilities.

Horne-Gallant became interested in the project about four years ago, and last spring, thanks to a $1,000 grant from Easter Seals, Community Inclusions and Skills PEI purchased six drums and trained the staff on rhythmic arts.

Drumming uses most of the senses, including touch, hearing and sight, Horne-Gallant said.

"It helps people with autism, with sensory skills. You can use it for phonics."

Natalie Horne-Gallant, the employment counsellor at Community Inclusions, sees how rhythmic arts benefit people with intellectual disabilities. (Pat Martel/CBC)

There's another benefit for participants who beat the drums.

"You can get your emotions out," Jillian McInnis said.

"When you're smashing the drum, you release your anger."

The drummers uses most of their senses, including touch, hearing and sight. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Horne-Gallant agrees drumming can be a good coping mechanism. 

"If you're sad or you're happy or you're angry, you can play it in music and it's made for everybody. Everybody of all abilities can take part in using the drums."