I’m a planner and an organizer. I’m early for everything and I always like to be prepared.

So when I began working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other special needs it was a HUGE shift for me to learn that coming in with a pre-planned “agenda” and session plan might not be the best way to meet my client’s needs.

Of course I keep the same basic “structure” each week – Hello Song, Socialization Song, Movement Activity, Instrument Activity, etc, – I think this helps alleviate some anxiety in my clients because they know what to expect when they come into the session.

However the true beauty of music therapy – as I see it – is the possibility of flexibility within that neat little structure.

I can sing my same Hello Song with a drum accompaniment, with a guitar accompaniment or with a maraca accompaniment.

I can work on turn-taking and sharing with a cowbell, tone bells, or a clatterpillar.

I can ask the children to move like an elephant, or jump on a trampoline like a kangaroo, or slither on the floor like a snake.

I can work on selective attention with the glockenspiel, the cymbals, or hand bells.

The possibilities for variety are endless.

Also, within that neat little structure are various opportunities for me to change things up, tweak things, or go in a completely different direction in the moment if things aren’t going “as planned.”

I try my best to be in the moment, closely watching my client’s needs, and making adjustments when necessary.

This happened in a session last week!

I was hoping to work on letters and letter sounds by pairing each letter with an animal. I had spent so much time writing a brand new song and creating fun, colorful visuals. But as I tried to go through the activity, I noticed my clients were jumping up and down in their seats, moving around and appeared restless. So I dropped the animal pictures and we jumped. And jumped. And jumped. We jumped and said each letter sound. T-t-tiger. T-t-tiger. T-t-tiger. Somehow pairing the movement with the speech output was just what these clients needed. They were more engaged and more participatory. Following the jumping, they were able to sit and attend to the subsequent activities (until it was time to get up and move again!)

Had I been so stuck to my session plan and insisted on them sitting, the intervention wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

So slowly, slowly I am breaking free from my session plan obsession.

Can you relate? Leave a comment below and let us know – do you always stick to a session plan or do you go with the flow? We’d love to know!