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  • Circles of Communication

Connecting Through Play and Music

Updated: Apr 6

We believe that what matters most is the interaction itself. Activities are secondary. The gleam in a client’s eye is the way into their world. Expectedly, this “way in” varies greatly with each individual. However, we know there are a variety of universally supportive and appealing themes and activities that can help us discover the best versions of ourselves and evoke the “gleam” within each of us.

One of the ways we consistently find gleam in our clients is through play. In working with them, we regularly incorporate joyful, regulatory, and play-based activities. Play provides a safe opportunity for learning and exploration across the lifespan, and inherently target a variety of visual-spatial, motor, language, social-emotional, and executive functioning skills. We encourage families to engage in play-based activities because there is extensive scientific literature detailing the benefits of play. According to a 2014 longitudinal study conducted by The PLAY Project, playful interactions increased caregiver and child relationships, improved social skills in children with autism, and reduced caregiver stress and depression. Additionally, play-based approaches are relatively inexpensive, intuitive, and easy to implement in comparison to other therapeutic options.

Music is also engaging, accessible, and extremely beneficial. A literature review conducted by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA)concluded that music is universally appealing and helps to promote social, emotional, and cognitive skills across many different disability categories. Music is widely accepted as an evidence-based therapy that successfully reduces stress, enhances memory and cognition, improves communication, strengthens sensory-processing, and diminishes maladaptive behaviors. Additionally, there is strong potential for communities with diverse needs and backgrounds to bond through shared musical experiences.

Incorporating play and music can look very different depending on the age, interests, and aptitudes of each individual child. Play might involve enacting scenes from a favorite video clip, using toys in conventional and unconventional ways, building forts, making up games based on a beloved character, or trying commercially available games and modifying/simplifying their rules. If you are not sure where to start, we suggest introducing classic toy items like hula hoops, jump ropes, and blocks and demonstrating how they can be used functionally (i.e. spinning a hula hoop around the arm or waist) or imaginatively (i.e. using a hula hoop as a spaceship). Oftentimes, individuals on the spectrum need to be shown how to initiate ideas in play, so demonstrating ideas is very helpful. Musical activities might include turning household items into instruments, creating dance sequences to favorite songs, or simply listening to a variety of musical styles during other activities to support mood and regulation. For example, meditative music can help with focus and attention while completing academic tasks. Upbeat music can lift the spirits and encourage silliness and exploration during play.

Do your best to tune into things that excite your child. Try to create an environment that highlights their passions and supports their challenges. Most importantly, be patient and have fun!

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