Visual Aids

Visual Supports from Music Therapy Sessions to the Home
Article by Music Therapist Faith & Ants Art by Art Therapists Katie and Erica

Music is often referred to as a universal language – a means of connection that anyone can access. As a music therapist I believe this to be true, and I see it in action every day. But if I always relied on sound alone to get my message across, a lot would get lost in translation. For those who have difficulty understanding and producing verbal language, incorporating visual aids can make all the difference. My binder of visual aids is one of my most used tools in my music therapy sessions. When I use visual supports I see more moments of connection, increased engagement, more time on task, smoother transitions, and open lines of communication. What’s not to love? Here are some specific examples of the power of pictures.

Visual Aids in Song – “Ants Go Marching”

I love using the song “Ants Go Marching” in my sessions with young children. We drum along, playing extra loud for the “boom, boom, boom, boom!” at the end of each verse.

Without visual aids, the people I support may enjoy listening and playing along to the song. But do they understand the words? Are they counting from 1-10 along with me? This is a long song – are they losing focus along the way? Incorporating visual aids can provide some extra support in meeting those nonmusical goals. The combination of the music and the visuals can encourage sustained attention, increase social engagement, support language comprehension, and build academic skills. Plus it’s so much fun, it won’t even feel like work! Click here for a printable version of our “Ants Go Marching” visual aids to try it at home.

Visual Schedules

What’s going to happen next? When can I go home? What am I supposed to be doing right now? When do I get to do what I want to do?

When these unanswered questions start swirling, it’s only a matter of time before anxiety builds to a point of dysregulation. To prevent that tension from rising, try a visual schedule. Seeing each step of the schedule laid out visually gives the person you support a clear picture of what’s happening and when. This can be helpful during morning or bedtime routines, trips out of the house, multi-step processes like going to the bathroom or getting dressed – the list goes on and on. Click here to find a printable visual schedule to get you started. (Tip: to find royalty-free images and make your own visuals aids, try searching the Creative Commons database).

Whenever possible, I like to involve my clients in building their schedule before our music therapy session starts. We take turns picking visuals to represent instruments or songs that we want to play. This allows my client to exercise some autonomy and ensures that the session will be motivating to them.

If a multi-step visual schedule feels too overwhelming, try starting out with this first/then schedule. Place a picture representing a challenging activity “first” (maybe that’s brushing their teeth, or putting on shoes). Place a picture representing an exciting activity under “then” (maybe that’s singing a fun song, or playing with their favorite toy). It’s comforting to know there’s a fun reward waiting after a difficult task, and a first/then schedule helps clearly communicate that.

You’re Not Alone!

If you’d like to start incorporating visual aids at home but are still unsure of where to start, talk to your therapist! Tell us what situations are challenging, and we can help you brainstorm and implement solutions.

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