Engaging Children With Autism During Group Time: Music & Movement

Songs can be a great way to get students using language, imitating, and following directions.  Most (if not all) students can participate and get reinforced for doing so!  It can be highly engaging which can free up other staff members to prepare for upcoming activities or work on additional important skills such as toilet training.  Movement songs can be especially useful for when the schedule is unexpectedly side-tracked.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Contrive motivation to request songs by presenting a song board like the one shown.  Place pictures that represent students’ favorite songs on a board.  The song board can be faded out when students can request song choices spontaneously (with no visual cues present).
  • To get students imitating, remember to ‘mix up’ your language:  “Do this”, “Copy me”, “Do what I’m doing”, “Show me this”
  • Consider using a “rolling chair”.  This will allow you to move from one side of the group to the other quickly so you can provide prompting and reinforcement in a timely manner.
  • Try lowering the volume at times throughout the song and prompt students to request “Louder” or “Turn it up!”
  • When students are familiar with the song, try singing without the music accompaniment.  At certain points, leave out words and let students fill them in.  (For this to work, it is important that ONLY the group leader sings.  Other staff members will inadvertently fill in the words, not giving students a chance to.)

Pick songs that lend themselves to a lot of movements, are repetitive, and most of all, are FUN!

Here are some of our favorites.  Tell us a few of yours!

  • Days of the Week by Dr. Jean
  • Five Little Frogs by Raffi
  • Goodnight by Laurie Berkner
  • Marcarena Months by Dr. Jean
  • Monkeys and Alligators by Dr. Jean
  • Moon, Moon, Moon by Laurie Berkner
  • Must Be Santa by Raffi
  • My Hands on My Head by Dr. Jean
  • Spooky Walk by John Given
  • The Goldfish by Laurie Berkner


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3 comments on “Engaging Children With Autism During Group Time: Music & Movement

  1. Karen Roberts

    We sing and use music and movement throughout our preschool SPED day. Our students–peer models and those on IEPs alike love the Pete the Cat series! We get so much language reading and singing along with the books…

  2. Brenda Craig

    As we all know every child has their own unique talents and areas they enjoy. I’ve worked with a couple of students with autism in the past. Music is usually found and entertaining but for these student they became agitated and would not join in or participate. Once in awhile I could get them to follow me with the actions to “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” but that was a one-on-one situation and not a part of the music class.

  3. Taylor Jones


    Thank you for writing this article. Your ideas are excellent and creative. Nice job.


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