Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Schoolhouse Strategy: Chairs and Squares

The structure of a setting can be instrumental in obtaining positive behaviors from children with many different kinds of disabilities. I have found this to be especially true when working with children in the autism spectrum. I work with many clients in the public school classroom and have found a huge continuum of physical structure in the classrooms ranging from clients sitting on the floor or a patterned carpet to sitting in a chair with a tray table or seatbelt. I believe it is important to use the least restrictive environment while implementing music strategies while at the same time providing some supportive physical and visual aids to help the clients know where they should be sitting or even where they should be dancing to the music.

I usually like to have my groups sitting in chairs that are the correct size so that their feet can touch the ground. If their feet can't touch the ground and their legs are swinging it is just one more way they can become distracted. When I go into a classroom where the teacher normally has group time with the children on the floor, I at least try to have them sit on carpet squares or put tape down on the floor to provide a visual sense of space. Sitting the children in chairs provides an age appropriate visual cue as well as physical structure. I have also been successful in incorporating lyric cues with sitting in chairs.

I titled this post as "Chairs and Squares" because sometimes chairs can provide problems for children with autism. They sometimes like to rock back and forth, move the chairs around or simply don't react to the chair as a structuring force. I believe that the visual structure is not evident to them sometimes since it is below them. Sometimes tactile stimulation in the form of various textured cushions can help in maintaining appropriate sitting behavior and I have found that adding a carpet square to the setting can also be extremely effective. The carpet square can be placed underneath the chair or in front of the chair so that the chair or the child's feet must remain in/on the square. Not only does the carpet square provide visual cues for personal space, but it provides a clear reference for verbal and sung prompts and directions. I have often been amazed at the dramatic improvement in behavior and therefore attention to instruction when carpet squares have been added to the setting. Establishment of good sitting behavior is essential in group or individual therapy and instruction. The use of chairs or carpet squares may seem a trivial matter, but I recommend that teachers and therapists wisely consider these settings. Hopefully, the use of carpet squares with chairs can then be faded over time.


Music Moment: Kevin Kern

I added Kevin Kern's CD, In The Enchanted Garden, to my list of things to have in a therapy "toolkit" or just a nice thing to have around in your collection. The first twenty minutes of this album is one of the most effective sequences of music I have ever found for facilitating relaxation. The entire CD is excellent, but the CD can be started and used to structure a relaxation session that is a good length. This is an easy way for anyone to get started practicing a relaxation routine without having to create an appropriate series of songs through cutting and pasting. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Schoolhouse Strategy: Counting Using Music

I work with many children who have counting as one of their goals. I have found that music is most effective in helping clients to count 1-20. Once the numbers get larger than 20, the words are too big to easily fit into the melodies and rhythms of songs. The music then becomes more distracting than helpful. I like to further break down counting in groups of ten so that a song counts up or down 1-10 or 10-20. I do this for the same reason we have phone numbers split up into groups. It is easier to remember information when it is split into "chunks."

There are many kinds of melodies that work nicely for counting, but the simplest way to use music and counting is to count up or down a scale. This works very nicely for a variety of reasons. A scale naturally has a beginning and end if you are singing eight numbers since a normal scale comprises eight notes. Most people are used to hearing an eight note scale even if they cannot sing it themselves. They can usually tell you that something is wrong with a scale even if they do not know specifically what the problem might be. As a scale is being sung the next note is anticipated and can be used to help remember a number. Certain notes in a scale "feel" less comfortable to stop on and have a powerful impetus to move to the next note. Without getting too technical, this is similar to the feeling you will get if you stop singing the Happy Birthday song at the end of the song, "...happy birthday to _____," and do not sing the last note with the word "you." Most people will have the urge to fill in the last note and word for the song. Singing up or down a scale without finishing the entire scale can have the same effect so it becomes a powerful mental "hook" in remembering numbers.

I have also used original melodies to group numbers. The most important aspect of using a melody to learn sequences of numbers is to keep the melody simple and fairly short. To maximize the effectiveness of the counting song you should use a different melody for each group of numbers so that each melody has a unique set of lyrics. You may "piggyback" the numbers on the melody of a known song, but I do not recommend doing this very often. I will talk about "piggyback" songs in a different post, but if you use the same melody for too many different kinds of information it will lose effectiveness. This is just a short primer for using songs to help with counting, but 1, 2, 3... GO!

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