Using Embedded Song Interventions to Improve Performance During Self-Care Tasks







This article outlines a case study performed by researchers to find the effect of using embedded song interventions compared to verbal instruction of a 5-year-old boy diagnosed with Autism. The researchers noted that in our culture independence is highly valued by young individuals as well as for adults who provide care for them. For children with Autism, independent self-care can be inhibited by a number of factors such as motivation and meaning to the individual, habits and performance patterns, communication deficits, sensory processing, and variability of performance. These factors can lead to adults parenting or working with children with Autism maintaining their caregiver role during self-care tasks for longer periods of time than those working with typically developing children.

The self-care tasks observed in this study were toileting, hand washing, and cleaning up toys during the morning routine of his integrated preschool class. The embedded songs used for each task were Row, Row, Row Your Boat with lyrics appropriate to the steps of hand-washing (this is called “piggy-backing”), the pre-composed song “Clean up!” by Barney and Friends, and an original song “Let’s Go Potty” was composed by the lead author of the study to outline the 10-step procedure. During the study, a song intervention was compared to a lyric intervention, which used only the words of the songs. These two conditions were alternated day by day, which has been shown to be effective in the rapid comparison of the efficacy between two interventions.

This study lasted for 17 days, and the data collected indicates that the song intervention was more effective than the lyric intervention for the hand-washing and clean up routines, whereas the lyric intervention was more effective for toileting. These results suggest that the clinical use of song interventions is more effective than the use of lyric interventions for some daily living activities.

For my own practice, I have found a multitude of piggy-back songs for many subjects on the internet, and it’s a lot of fun to make up new piggy-back songs on your own. If you are unsure of what the best choice is or the songs you have tried aren’t working, you can consult with a music therapist to select songs that will help the children in your lives to become as independent as possible.


Elyse Suhay, MT-BC