Home Private Practice Let’s Play Modified ‘Musical Chairs’ With Students With Autism

Let’s Play Modified ‘Musical Chairs’ With Students With Autism

by Rosemarie Griffin
Group of preschool children having fun playing Musical Chairs in a preschool, real action, children running. Acceptable blurriness, focus on little boy trying to sit.

Over the years, as a speech-language pathologist—and mother of three—I realized the vital importance of play and how much language it involves. However, while play is enjoyable for so many students, those with complex communication disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder, might find play difficult and overwhelming.

For these students, I modify play-based activities to help students build complex communication skills. Incorporating modified play into treatment allows my students to gain valuable communication-based skills. I also collaborate with other members of students’ IEP teams to develop shared goals targeted through these play-based activities. This way, everyone on the team can use the activities throughout the day. I also share specific details on progress notes, so parents can help generalize these skills at home .

I address a variety of skills with modified play activities:

  • Engaging in social play with peers
  • Following directions
  • Taking turns
  • Matching
  • Giving directions
  • Imitation
  • Participating in a group for a set amount of time, without disruptive behavior

Below I share modifications I make to frequently played games that work best with younger students.

Modified “Musical Chairs”

My students love this game! I set up the same number of chairs as students. So, for three students, I place three chairs. We never take a chair away. I tell the students the rules: when the music plays, we walk around the chairs. When the music stops, we sit down. I play music my students enjoy, and we play for five to 10 minutes. This activity targets following directions and engaging in a cooperative group activity.

Modified “Simon Says”

This game targets following directions, imitation and giving directions. The modification I use for this game is to always have Simon say: “Simon says touch your toes,” “Simon says jump,” “Simon says run in place,” “Simon says shout ‘hooray,’” “Simon says ‘march,’” and whatever else my students or I want Simon to say. In subsequent sessions, I encourage students to take a turn giving directions to the group. It’s amazing to see students take this leadership role!

Modified “Memory”

Students find many variations of Memory engaging. In a version I frequently use, I place the memory cards face-up in a smaller array. For example, if the set has 20 matches, I usually lay out 10 cards face-up and place the rest of the cards in a pile. Students take turns picking a card and finding a match. This is a great way to work on turn-taking and to generalize matching skills.

Teaching our students to engage in modified play activities can bring them so much joy! It’s also a wonderful way to embed communication-based goals into a functional life skill. Parents often share how much they treasure seeing their students engage in these activities with siblings, relatives and friends. Let’s make play fun for all!

What modified games or play-based activities do you use to target complex communication skills? Share in the comment section below.

Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in public and private schools. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 16, School-Based Issues. www.abaspeech.org

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autismtherapysite March 28, 2018 - 9:47 pm

I’ve been doing modified play with my ASD students for years. They all love to play Duck, Duck, Goose.

Joanna Menolasino April 5, 2018 - 5:10 pm

I am an intervention specialist and work with preschoolers. We play musical chairs but use carpet squares or shape mats to designate the spots. We do take away the mats BUT no one sits out! Instead, they may have to share a mat with another child. We practice: asking if we can share with a friend, being “willing” to share with a friend. We also change the movements that we use to practice a variety of gross motor skills as well as vocabulary development.

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