September 18, 2012 People

First Person on the Last Page: Yes, the Hokey Pokey Is What It’s All About!

Liliana Williams

Liliana Williams

I have a favorite quote: "Music is the universal language of mankind," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I also have a personal mission statement: "Look beyond the disability, to the possibility."

My students with moderate-to-severe disabilities love activities involving music and dance. In my work as a speech-language pathologist, I have always used music and movement as a "carrier" for speech and language. I choose music and movement activities that are rich in receptive and expressive language concepts. My activities include auditory processing of sequences (put your left foot in, put your left foot out, now clap your hands, and do-si-do!), and instead of tedious artic drills we do "artic thrills" to popular tunes (singing buh buh buh or guh guh guh to the tune of "Baa Baa Black Sheep"—the students always giggle).

One day I took my idea of learning to music one giant skip forward. I was watching the general education students perform their annual music show when I thought, "Hey, my students can do that, too!" I collaborated with my occupational therapy co-worker and we created an End-of-Year Music and Dance Show, starring our students. I was excited to start rehearsing, but many of the teachers and staff were wary and reluctant. Could their students really memorize songs and dance steps? Could their students handle performing in front of an audience? "Let's try!"

The initial rehearsals were definitely hectic; it was like herding cats. Students dashed abruptly off stage, "stimmed" on tinsel stars, and occasionally chewed on the curtains. Eventually, however, the rehearsals began to gel, and soon it was show time. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends poured into the cafeteria, hauling an astonishing array of video equipment. As the students performed, I watched the audience's faces glowing with pride and joy. Most parents had never seen their children on stage before.

After the students gave their final bows, they scampered off stage for family hugs and photos, and well-earned cookies.

And now after this inaugural show, our music shows are held once a year. These shining stars learn to music every day.

Liliana Williams, MA, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist at the Santa Clara County Office of Education in San Francisco. Contact her at

cite as: Williams, L. (2012, September 18). First Person on the Last Page: Yes, the Hokey Pokey Is What It’s All About!. The ASHA Leader.


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