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Building Social Skills through Music

Music can be a teacher, a carrier of information. Millions of children learn the alphabet as it is commonly sung to the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’. Music can also help teach children about things that would be expected in a real world, social setting, like a classroom.

For example, a song about staying clean and washing your hands could benefit a child who routinely forgets to do so.

For older children with social deficits, listening to, writing, or playing music with others, such as in a band or group, can teach invaluable social skills about being part of a team and self- confidence. Most fascinating, is the effect music can have as a medium for teaching social and developmental skills to children with autism.

Children with autism have difficulties with direct social engagement, so for some individuals on the spectrum who are musically inclined, group musical activities provide extraordinary

opportunities for engaging in predictable and comfortable interactions with social partners.

Group musical environments provide opportunities for learning social skills such as:

● Imitation,

● Turn taking

● Social reciprocity/ interaction,

● Joint or shared attention,

● Shared affect and understanding emotions

● Empathy

Synchronous movements during rhythmic actions or music making, as well as unison singing, creates a state of social cooperation, shared purposes, and a sense of togetherness which eventually brings a social connection between individuals.

While children with autism acquire social communication skills through music and begin to

apply them independently, music can be eliminated gradually, and then children might be able to use these acquired skills without any facilitation by music.

Activities that involve music to build social skills

Birds and Bees- Helps with imitation and turn taking

As a parent in this activity begin with vocalizing melodic contours created by the flight patterns of birds and bees. When first implementing this activity, the leader (usually the teacher or parent) stands at one side of the room holding a toy bird or bee. The leader flies the bird or bee across the room and the children produce vocal sounds (e.g. hum or bzzz) to show the contour of the flight path. Once children are familiar with this activity, a child can be chosen to fly the bird or bee.

Picture Books Guiding Vocal Production

Many children’s books contain words that suggest vocal sounds. Children add vocal sounds to narratives such as Cluck, cluck, cluck. Hens are fed or Sparrows sing, Chirp, chip, chip, chip. Children who are unable to vocalize may participate by adding sounds with non-pitched percussion instruments by representing clucks with woodblocks and chips with triangles, for example.

Songs with Simple Repeated Texts

Encouraging children with limited verbal skills to vocalize with portions of the song. Children

are encouraged to take part in the singing in whatever way best suits each of them. Some may be able to sing the words; while other students may choose to add vocal sounds only for the vowel and consonant sounds contained for the repeated word pattern.

Use Instruments to Create Music

Creating music using instruments stimulates the senses. For example, playing a Djembe or a simple shaker may help a child with autism move to a particular beat or show some liking towards a particular note. You can then encourage/ invite him/ her to join in making some music or encouraging movement.

Dancing with Music

Moving or dancing to music allows children with autism to express emotions. Allow children to move or dance in their own way, coming up with their own methods of self-expression. Dancing with the music may also create more body awareness and help encourage coordination skills. This is a great way to encourage imitation, follow verbal instructions, draw upon liking towards a particular instrument and of course some exercise!

Teaching Rhythm Patterns

While singing or listening to songs, have children mimic hand gestures or clapping to the rhythm of the song. This teaches children the patterns of the music, and learning simple rhythmic patterns may help to increase attention and memory. Over time, introduce complex rhythms as children become more comfortable with simple rhythms. Introducing drums or other percussion instruments may also be fun when teaching rhythm patterns.

You can choose to try one or a combination of suggestions but the most important thing to

remember is for you and your child to have fun and enjoy yourselves!


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