In this Autism Acceptance Month, it’s more important than ever to hear the voices coming out of the neurodiversity movement and those of our students themselves. With many autistic individuals growing up and sharing via social media and other channels what has and hasn’t worked in their education, we have some affirming shifts that we can make, for sure.
One angle that I always try to take is incorporating my students’ interests in sessions. This helps our activities to be engaging and context-driven, but also incorporates client values, a pillar of evidence-based practice. A teenage client of mine has shown a burgeoning interest in rock music and The Beatles in particular. It occurred to me immediately that many Beatles’ songs tell a story, so that was a great place to start.
One of the key things I love about technology is that it can make context immediately available. ‘Twas a day, should we want to include Beatles or other songs in sessions, we would have had a more complicated plan: buying or borrowing CDs or other media. Now of course, a simple search brings us to audio, video, informational text passages, and even images that can be used for description or storytelling.
Here are some ways we incorporated this interest into therapy activities:
Identifying “story” elements is a great inferential activity for the student, even in less purely narrative songs like “Here Comes the Sun.” In these cases, we’d often talk about who wrote the song as the “character,” and nudge away from literal interpretations such as John and Paul singing together, meaning they are both the character (this would get weird with “I Saw Her Standing There.”) Naturally, SGM’s manipulative and digital icons were great scaffolds for picking out these stories!
Analyzing figurative language forms, a microstructure element of stories and other texts. The Neurodiversity Collective identifies this area (“metaphors, similies, personification, hyperbole, sarcasm”) as helpful pragmatic language therapy. The Beatles and other music artists use many examples of figurative language, such as the multiple examples in the lyric “Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play.” We explored visually what this might mean—not a literal calendar day yesterday, but as in the past.
Informational webpages provided material including record album covers and other imagery, for both descriptive language Visualizing and Verbalizing® style and broader “what’s the message?” questions. We incorporated a sketching strategy including SGM® icons according to Teresa Ukrainetz’ suggestions for “Sketch and Speak,” when talking about the inspirations for “Strawberry Fields Forever” (the garden of a children’s home near John Lennon’s hometown).
Being able to protest that something doesn’t make sense to us is a fairly critical communication skill. This student had challenges in reliably identifying absurdity in more psychedelic songs such as “Strawberry Fields Forever,” so we worked on this in a focused way.
Overall, many of the songs lend themselves to some kind of “language underpinning” activity, exploring categories relevant to world knowledge for example. “Penny Lane” had us first comparing trails vs lanes vs streets and larger byways via sketching, and as a follow-up using Google Slides to create a basic “map” of Penny Lane according to the song’s references to a barber, banker, firemen and a nurse.
Have other ideas on exploring music or other student interests? Let us know in the comments!
Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (www.speechtechie.com), looks at technology "through a language lens." Contact him at email@example.com.
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