Therapy Ideas

The Language of Leisure

Students with complex communication needs benefit from direct instruction regarding leisure skills and the language that is embedded throughout these activities. It is often that language and leisure skills are impaired in students with autism and other complex communication disorders. When our students do not engage in play/ leisure activities they are missing out on a natural way to work on language instruction.

Leisure skills can be addressed in a variety of ways in clinic or school based settings. If you have a student who receives direct individual therapy, you could work on a specific leisure skill during therapy and generalize it to a larger group, when the student is able to engage in the skill with minimal prompts from an adult. Another way to target leisure skill instruction would be to teach a specific leisure skill (i.e. modified musical chairs) to a small group of students. It is important whether you are teaching the skill in an individual or small group session that the students know exactly how to engage in the skill. There are many evidenced based strategies, but we will focus on the skill of video modeling.

What is video modeling?

Video modeling is a mode of teaching that uses video recording. The video recording acts as a visual model of the targeted skill or behavior. It can take many forms. The video can be of the student engaging in the skill or it can be of another individual engaging in the skill. The learner watches the video and then they perform the skill in the moment or at a later time. For example, if you are teaching students to play the game modified musical chairs; you could make a video of students playing this game. You would show the video to the students learning the game and then have them play the game. There is a lot of research that supports using this strategy to teach skills to individuals with autism and other disabilities. Below I will describe 2 modified leisure activities that I use with my elementary aged students.

Modified Musical Chairs

A favorite of my students is modified musical chairs. The modification is that all of the chairs stay put, no one takes a chair away. I tell my students the rules of the game before we play and show a video model of them playing the game. I put on music and the students walk around the chairs, when the music stops they need to find a seat. This game allows students to work on cooperative social language skills, engaging in a group activity for a set duration of time and addresses following directions given by an instructor.

Modified Simon Says

Another game that my students enjoy is modified Simon Says. In this version of the game, it is always Simon Says. So students are working more on following directions and engaging in a cooperative group activity. Some example directions include “Simon says touch your toes”, “Simon says run in place”, “Simon says jump”, “Simon says wave to a friend”, “Simon says shout hooray.”

Include Team Members

The last area to think about when directly working on teaching modified leisure skills, is to make sure that all educational team members are aware of this instruction. If the teacher, paraprofessionals and parents know about what you are teaching, they can help to generalize these skills to other settings. Being able to participate in age appropriate leisure skills gives students the opportunity to practice social language skills and helps them to feel more included with peers and their family members.

Working on leisure skills can be enjoyable for all; I hope that these strategies will help you incorporate this instruction into your therapeutic practice.


Rosemarie Griffin is a speech language pathologist, board certified behavior analyst and product developer. She is the creator of the Action Builder Cards. To learn more about modified leisure skills or to gather information about using applied behavior analysis to help students increase their communication skills, check out her website www.abaspeech.org or like her Facebook page here: ABA SPEECH ON FACEBOOK.


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