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.


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