Researching to the Beat of a Different Drummer
The College of Education prides itself on conducting research with relevance – a standard that became especially poignant as we embraced this year’s Common Experience theme of Innovation. Dr. Lyn Litchke in the Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) is just one of many College of Education faculty members who has been incorporating innovative techniques and approaches into her research.
As an associate professor of Therapeutic Recreation, Litchke’s research has always focused on improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities. When working with the Special Olympics in 2016, she learned about DRUMTASTIC®, a therapeutic intervention from the company Drums Alive. According to the Drums Alive website, DRUMTASTIC® combines “kinesthetic awareness, neuromuscular skills, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, strength, and wellness activities” into an evidence-based recreational program. Guided by her curiosity, Litchke invited Carrie Ekins, Drums Alive founder, to campus as part of HHP’s Brennan and Smith Lecture Series. In the two years since then, Litchke has become a certified master trainer in DRUMTASTIC®, along with several of her students. She has combined this unique intervention with yoga and studies the two practices together in a research initiative she has branded as DrumCats.
DrumCats is a collaborative effort between Litchke, her students and the community. Her research aims to understand the effectiveness of DRUMTASTIC® as a therapeutic recreation intervention. She studies the intervention across all walks of life, including working with veterans, college students and children. Her specialty is adapting the intervention so that people of all abilities may participate, and she frequently works with people with developmental disabilities. To gather data for her research, Litchke and her student DrumCat instructors bring DRUMTASTIC® to various groups in the local community, where they teach classes and collect measurements on skill improvement, specifically social skills, emotional self-regulation, language arts, motor skills, and cognitive ability. As she moves forward with her research, Litchke hopes to also collect saliva from participants to investigate markers of stress and depression based on their cortisol levels and inflammation.
While finding a variety of sites to collect this data from is certainly an undertaking, Litchke has the good fortune of the strong relationships she has built with alumni of the Therapeutic Recreation program who are now putting their degrees to good use in the local community. Last summer, those connections led to partnerships with both Street2Feet at Haven for Hope Homeless Shelter and Children’s Rehabilitation Institute TeletonUSA (CRIT) in San Antonio.
Elizabeth Rosenbaum graduated from Texas State in 1991 with a degree in Recreation Administration and a concentration in Therapeutic Recreation. She has maintained a close relationship with Litchke following a period when they worked together at Laurel Ridge Treatment Center. Eleven years ago, Rosenbaum began a nonprofit organization in San Antonio called Street2Feet, which provides people experiencing homelessness with accessible exercise routines. Last August, Litchke brought DRUMTASTIC® to a health-related workshop at Street2Feet, and Rosenbaum says the results were instantaneous. “There was so much joy in the room,” she shared. Following the workshop, Rosenbaum also got certified in DRUMTASTIC®, and plans to continue this intervention on a regular basis with those she serves.
Another visit Litchke made on her summer research trail was to Kelli Roberts, a 2010 Recreation Administration graduate with a Therapeutic Recreation concentration who now serves as the Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator at CRIT in San Antonio. CRIT is a multidisciplinary outpatient rehabilitation facility that serves children on an income-based basis from all 50 states, as well as internationally. After hearing about DRUMTASTIC® from a Texas State intern she was working with, Roberts asked Litchke to bring the intervention to CRIT’s staff education series so that they could see how beneficial it would be for the patients they serve. Roberts says she likes DRUMTASTIC® as an intervention because it can be modified for all abilities. “A lot of times,” she notes, “when we think about disabilities, we think of limitations, and what they can’t do instead of what these kids are capable of and how much potential they do have.” Moving forward, Roberts wants to continue using DRUMTASTIC® as a form of patient therapy and hopes to invite Drums Alive founder Carrie Ekins to CRIT to conduct a certification for several members of her staff.
Litchke’s research line is not only a shining example of the strong tradition of community-engaged scholarship within the Health and Human Performance Department, but it also speaks to the well-trained College of Education alumni who go on to work in the Central Texas community. After taking a developmental leave to further the reach of her project last year, Litchke returned to campus this year with a $15,000 TEA Services to Students with Autism Grant for research in Seguin and four research papers in various phases of publication. She is looking forward to continuing to work with both undergraduate and graduate students to spread the DRUMTASTIC® intervention to all those who can benefit from it. •