What Does a Developmental Music Group Look Like?

What you’ll see:

– playing percussion instruments (drums, shakers)

– movement to music

– singing classic kids songs (Baby Shark, Bear Hunt, Tiny Turtle, etc.)

– fill-in-the-blank songwriting

– taking turns being the leader

– rhythm songs/ games

– playing handbells, boomwackers

– hello song and goodbye song (for opening and closing – strumming my guitar or coming to the piano to play with me while we sing to them)

Here are some kids doing an action song that incorporates pretend play and movement (motor skills).

What we’re targeting with developmentally appropriate goals:

Social/ Emotional Skills

– turn taking

– impulse control

– greetings/ manners

– self expression

– emotional regulation

Motor Skills

– fine and gross motor skills

– coordination

Cognitive Skills

– colors, numbers, shapes

– attention to task

– auditory perception

– executive functioning/ following directions

This little bunny had kids helping him hop to shapes I was singing about.

My overall philosophy is that a child in my group should leave feeling successful! I love smiles and having fun and that is what I hope your child experiences in this group. 🙂

Autism Spectrum Disorders, Co-Treatment with ABA Therapy

During my time working as a Behavior Interventionist, I implemented programming developed by Board Certified Behavior Analysts.  Based on need and with consultation, music was incorporated into the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) sessions.



Why Music?

Music is a powerful tool because it occurs in the moment, is often predictable, and stimulates numerous areas of the brain as it is being processed.  Music experiences generally address various domains of development simultaneously.  I will attempt to categorize them and focus on only a few.  I have used music in ABA sessions to work on cognitive skills, social skills, and to maintain attention.



Cognitive Skills

This has especially proved helpful in teaching phone numbers or addresses.  One of the kids I worked with had a program to learn his address.  By putting it to a song, he was able to remember it within a day.  In this case, I just made up my own short song and sang it with him a few times.  I included the discriminative stimulus that was written into his program in the song so that he would generalize better when I did move to a verbal cue (versus the sung cue).


Social Skills

Instruments, such as the guitar or harmonica, are fun to bring in to the sessions occasionally.  They provide a sense of novelty to the child that facilitates social interactions with me as the facilitator.  Instruments can also provide sensory exploration.  One of my younger clients liked to feel the strings of the guitar, either by strumming them or just running his fingers along them.  Sometimes I put his feet on the body of the guitar so he can feel the vibrations through it.  These are all ways of facilitating social interactions.  In another session, the child was playing by himself and not engaging with me.  I started singing (improvising) about what he was doing as he played.  He then started doing other things to see if I would also sing about those, thus creating a social interaction game.


Movement to music provides a great way for kids to have a break from more formal ABA work while still working on social awareness and listening skills.  In my experience, the funnier the song, the more engagement you’ll get from the child.  If you have a group of children, turn-taking with instruments can also be incorporated.

Some movement songs require the child to use their imagination, while others involve following a leader that comes up with original motor movements (another opportunity for turn-taking).  This requires the child to watch a peer and imitate them.

Most often, I incorporate movement songs in “mock circle time” with parents, siblings, and peers that might be visiting.  During this time, I am charting on goals such as hand raising to answer questions and sitting quietly/ attending to the teacher.  In these mock circle times, I choose to incorporate a hello song, a story (with questions about the content), and then sing favorite songs while I play the guitar, take turns with instruments/ imitating peers, or do movement to music.


Maintaining Attention

Elements of the music can be modified in the moment to elicit different responses from the child.  Maybe the child is loosing interest in what is being presented.  At that time, a music therapist might change an element in the music (volume, speed, style, key, etc.) in hopes that the modification will reengage them in the experience.

The skill of improvising musically and/ or vocally is a useful skill.  When working one-on-one with a child, a music therapist may base the speed and style of the song upon what the child is doing at that time.  For instance, if the child has a lot of energy, the tempo of the song might be faster; if the child is in a lounging mood, the speed might start slower.



In my experience, music added to the structure of ABA programming enhances the learning experience for the child.  Contact me today to see how your child may benefit from Music Therapy!




Music Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet from musictherapy.org

Songsforteaching.com– songs for teaching academic curriculum concepts

Movement Songs for Children – compiled by the director of Harmony Music Therapy in Salt Lake City; an excellent blog with ideas for using music

My favorite movement songs: “The Goldfish” – Laurie Berkner; “Animal Action” – Greg and Steve; “Pokey Bear;” and “The Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea”

What is Music Therapy?

“Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”  (musictherapy.org, “What is Music Therapy”)


Music Therapists must complete a bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy (or an equivalent program), which includes courses in psychology, human development, anatomy, special education, and core music classes.  After coursework and music proficiency tests have been completed at the university level, they must complete a 6 month internship (1200 hours of clinical work), and pass a board certification exam (thereby gaining the credentials of MT-BC: Music Therapist-Board Certified).  Continuing education credits are then required every five years.


Music Therapists work in a variety of settings including hospitals, mental health centers, geriatric facilities, hospice, special needs, etc.  A music therapist conducts an assessment and develops a treatment plan that includes goals and objectives.  Data is taken throughout the course of treatment that provides for ongoing assessment.  Target goal areas may include communication, social skills, cognition, emotional regulation, behavior modification, and motor skills.  Music is often performed live (usually on guitar, piano, or other accompanying instrument) in order to meet the needs of the client in the moment.  Singing, improvisation, movement to music, instrument playing experiences, and songwriting are some of the techniques that are employed to meet these goals.