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#1237517 - 07/26/09 08:03 AM Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum?  
Joined: Sep 2007
Posts: 209
BSP Offline
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BSP  Offline
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Hudson Valley, NY
Hello all,
I just wonder how many of us here have had experience teaching
students with these challenges?

If so, how do you define the goals? Are your students verbal?
Are your lessons shorter than 30 minutes? I know a lot depends on where your students "are" in the moment, but I am curious.
I have had inquiries from families of students with autism in the past, but unfortunately, in those cases, my schedule didn't match up with theirs.

As I am desiring to expand my available teaching days, I would just like to be prepared for any inquiries that come. I'm trying to determine whether I have what it takes to meet the needs of these students.

thanks in advance,
BevP

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#1237533 - 07/26/09 08:52 AM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: BSP]  
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Ebony and Ivory Offline
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Ebony and Ivory  Offline
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Minnesota
I work with a lot of ASD kids in school. I will say, you can't really be prepared for anything. It is called "spectrum disorder" for a reason. These kids can be silent, or non-stop talkers. They can have have an amazing sense of music and rhythm, or none at all. The range of this disorder is staggering.
All I can say is, if you're willing to try these kids, you have to go in with an open mind (I mean wide open!) and pretty much no plan. If you have a plan, be prepared to disregard it. You'll need to change it up from week to week. Something that works on Monday, may not work by Wednesday.

There is absolutely no way to define a lesson with these kids. You have to take each one individually and if you have 3, I can pretty much guarantee that you will need 3 completely different plans for them. After you get to know them as individuals, you will find things that work better than others, but it could take quite awhile. Then just when you think you found their buttons, they change them lol.

That being said, they can be amazing kids too. smile

I had a 7th grade girl that liked to tinker on the piano at school. After a trip to the zoo she became intensely scared of zebras. After that, she wouldn't go near the piano. My guess was the black and white of the keys reminded her of the zebra. When she left the school after 8th grade, she still had not come back to the piano frown


It is better to be kind than to be right.

Professional private piano teacher since 1994.
#1237565 - 07/26/09 09:50 AM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]  
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R0B Offline
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Australia
I have 'taught' a young teenager, with severe autism. He was almost non-verbal.
I must emphasise that these were not lessons to teach him to play, but an attempt by his parents, to try to bring out a love, and aptitude for music, if it lay within him.

Between his mother, and myself, we developed a system for him to translate the 'music' to the keys.

It started with simple 5 finger tunes. We coloured the keys ( C-G) and I wrote simple tunes for him, for example, 'London Bridge is falling down', by using coloured circles, with the note letter written on them, coloured stickers on the keys, and even (his mother's idea) colouring his nails, to correspond with the keys.

If you decide to take on such a student, please be prepared for endless patience, and letting the student decide when he/she has had enough.
Mine would say "finish" when he wanted to end the lesson, and there was no point in continuing past that.

But, also be prepared for the most humbling, and tear jerking moment, when your student beams up at you with delight, after having mastered the simplest of tunes.

Without a doubt, the most memorable student I have ever had.
The only one, who taught me more about myself, than I ever could have taught him.


Rob
#1237590 - 07/26/09 11:02 AM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: R0B]  
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BSP Offline
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BSP  Offline
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Joined: Sep 2007
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Hudson Valley, NY
E&I and ROB,
Thanks for responding.

I volunteered for a short time with a friend who is a music therapist and ran a group with students with ASD. So, I do have some experience with students on the spectrum. And, I understand that structure goes out the window, depending on the day.

I guess my questions are more specific in nature. For example,
E&I, did you adapt a piano method for use with your students?
How would you define the goals of your teaching in these cases?

I realize that you can't go "by the book", and I do have lots of patience and empathy for these students and their families. And, I think, in a lot of ways, that's most of what they need. A teacher willing to try.

ROB, I appreciate your sharing your system with me. Did you put the stickers on your own piano? Were they easy to remove from the keys?? I tried that once and had a hard time removing the stickers from the piano and don't want to do it again.. smile

thanks and cheers,
BevP


#1237598 - 07/26/09 11:19 AM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: BSP]  
Joined: Feb 2005
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Ebony and Ivory Offline
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Ebony and Ivory  Offline
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Joined: Feb 2005
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Minnesota
Originally Posted by BSP
E&I, did you adapt a piano method for use with your students?
How would you define the goals of your teaching in these cases?


Sorry, I can't help you with your question. I don't have any of these kids in my private lesson schedule. The ones I work with at school just twiddle around. Sadly, there just isn't time for one on one stuff like that at school.
My goals at school are simply to keep peace lol.



It is better to be kind than to be right.

Professional private piano teacher since 1994.
#1248760 - 08/13/09 08:05 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]  
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Jonathan Baker Offline
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Jonathan Baker  Offline
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The term "autistic spectrum disorder" is virtually meaningless as a clinical medical term. Dozens of differing disorders that have few similarities are herded underneath that umbrella term. What it amounts to is a catch-all phrase - a "rhetorical warehouse" so to speak - for a vast array of disorders that the medical profession has yet to clearly assess and differentiate from each other.

The very definition of "autism" is a hotly debated topic both within the medical profession and among parents with children who have been afflicted.

Having said that, I had one student, a boy of 15, who was labeled as autistic. In his case, after about six months of lessons, he could still not locate middle C on the keyboard. He looked bright, healthy, and relatively happy, but he had no mental focus. I tried every angle under the sun to engage him, but his mind could not stay focused for more than 5 seconds (yes, ADHD is also a possibility, but also an amorphous term). I got him away from the piano and tried to get basic motor skills going, such as tapping out 3/4 versus 4/4. I did find out he could barely distinguish left from right, but I did not have the solution for that, and recommended his parents consult with a neurologist I knew who worked very effectively with kids.

Some individuals labeled as autistic are non-verbal and show signs of profound mental retardation. At the other extreme are those who are labeled "idiot-savant" whose obsessive fixation on one skill that results in exceptional ability - but those cases are exceedingly rare.

We all know that the piano requires relentless focus - and without this capacity for sustained concentration, even a healthy "non-autistic' person will be unable to get far.

If lack of mental focus is a problem, then I would consider an instrument other than the piano for study. Perhaps participation in a choral group that is not too demanding.






#1249094 - 08/14/09 11:26 AM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]  
Joined: Jul 2009
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J Cortese Offline
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J Cortese  Offline
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Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted by Ebony and Ivory
I had a 7th grade girl that liked to tinker on the piano at school. After a trip to the zoo she became intensely scared of zebras. After that, she wouldn't go near the piano. My guess was the black and white of the keys reminded her of the zebra. When she left the school after 8th grade, she still had not come back to the piano frown


This may be a stupid suggestion, and one that would be hard to implement, but would it be possible for her to get a digital piano and color the keys purple and orange or something? Anything but black and white. This would probably result in a custom piano that only she could use since it would drive most players up the wall to use one that wasn't black and white ... but if black and white keys are freaking her out, then do yellow and pink or something. It's a simple solution, and it's worth a try if her family can invest in a used upright or something, and then color the keys differently.

It'll be one heck of an oddball looking piano, but she might get back to it again.


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#1249284 - 08/14/09 04:00 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: J Cortese]  
Joined: Feb 2005
Posts: 1,179
Ebony and Ivory Offline
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Ebony and Ivory  Offline
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Joined: Feb 2005
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Minnesota
Originally Posted by J Cortese
This may be a stupid suggestion, and one that would be hard to implement, but would it be possible for her to get a digital piano and color the keys purple and orange or something?

It'll be one heck of an oddball looking piano, but she might get back to it again.


No such thing as a "stupid suggestion wink

That is a really cool idea! I don't see her anymore, but I'll see if I can raise that question with her new teachers.

Can you imagine the looks on people's faces to see a piano like that? lol
I am envisioning a whole Laurel Burch piano, wouldn't that be neat??


It is better to be kind than to be right.

Professional private piano teacher since 1994.
#1249320 - 08/14/09 05:07 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Ebony and Ivory]  
Joined: Mar 2009
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Little_Blue_Engine Offline
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Little_Blue_Engine  Offline
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Ohio, US
Originally Posted by Ebony and Ivory
Originally Posted by J Cortese
This may be a stupid suggestion, and one that would be hard to implement, but would it be possible for her to get a digital piano and color the keys purple and orange or something?

It'll be one heck of an oddball looking piano, but she might get back to it again.


No such thing as a "stupid suggestion wink

That is a really cool idea! I don't see her anymore, but I'll see if I can raise that question with her new teachers.

Can you imagine the looks on people's faces to see a piano like that? lol
I am envisioning a whole Laurel Burch piano, wouldn't that be neat??


The strangest suggestions are often the ones that end up working when you're dealing with autistic students.


I'll figure it out eventually.
Until then you may want to keep a safe distance.
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#1249358 - 08/14/09 06:34 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Little_Blue_Engine]  
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J Cortese Offline
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J Cortese  Offline
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Well, it did strike me a little like the old joke: "Doctor, it hurts when I do X!"

"Well, stop doing X." :-)


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#1249876 - 08/15/09 03:25 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: J Cortese]  
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Jeff Clef Offline
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Jeff Clef  Offline
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San Jose, CA
I've seen some pretty wild color schemes on pianos--- that served less of a purpose. To what better use could you put one of those old Wurlitzer spinets... or an inexpensive digital (maybe the variety of sounds would be more interesting to the kids).

There was a special on TV recently about music and autistic kids (and they were at pains to point out, just as Jonathan said, that it's an ill-defined condition). Their big point was that music has the power to reach some of these kids in a way nothing else can.

As to whether any of these kids can learn to play, or if lessons will bring out something that lies dormant within them... maybe the real point, or the real benefit, lies elsewhere.

As a sidelight, the researchers found that far-advanced Alzheimer's patients responded to music, even if nothing else could get through to them. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that some fruitful research lies ahead, maybe because music makes an end-run around the damaged part of the brain and is processed at a deeper level that's still working for these people.


Clef

#1249884 - 08/15/09 03:41 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Jeff Clef]  
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BSP Offline
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BSP  Offline
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Hudson Valley, NY
Dear Jeff and all,
The reason that I started this thread was because, in the past, I have gotten inquiries from the parents of children on the spectrum, and I question whether I "have what it takes" to teach them, atm. Music can affect children on the spectrum like nothing else can.. sometimes in good ways, sometimes not so good.

There is a fabulous young jazz pianist named Matt Savage, who has autism.. I heard him in an interview with Marian McPartland of "Piano Jazz" on NPR.. He said that when he was a baby, he couldn't stand music, at all... IIRC, he used to hold his hands over his ears and scream when music was playing.. now, he's an amazing jazz pianist and composer. Who knew?

Jeff Clef, I did some work with Hospice patients, many of whom had Alzheimers. My Dad had Alzheimers's as well. Sometimes it was the only thing that would get through to him, when he was sundowning.

To recount a precious story: I had a patient at Hospice, who'd just been admitted to a nursing home. She was really confused, but her husband told me of her favorite songs. One day, I went to the NH to visit, and the two of them were sitting together. I started playing and singing, "You are My Sunshine". She reached for his hand, and kissed it. It warms my heart to this day just thinking about it.
I looked forward to seeing them again, but, alas, she left this world before my next visit. As confused as she had been, she remembered the song, and connected with her dear husband in a way that she'd been unable to for months. It was very moving.
Often, Alzheimer's patients will forget how to speak, but sing along with a song they've know from way back. It's fascinating..

bevP

Last edited by BSP; 08/15/09 03:45 PM.
#1249894 - 08/15/09 04:18 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: BSP]  
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Little_Blue_Engine Offline
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Little_Blue_Engine  Offline
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Ohio, US
Originally Posted by BSP

Often, Alzheimer's patients will forget how to speak, but sing along with a song they've know from way back. It's fascinating..

bevP

I was watching a show about the brain not long ago and apparently it's also not uncommon for people with Parkinsons who have trouble walking to be able to still dance. They showed a man who was able to ballroom dance with his wife but could barely walk across a room. It's amazing that things that seem like they should be similar are processed completely different.


I'll figure it out eventually.
Until then you may want to keep a safe distance.
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#1249924 - 08/15/09 04:57 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Little_Blue_Engine]  
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Gary D. Online content
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I don't like labels, so I will use the label two parents use for their own kids.

In both cases the kids have been labeled (high functioning). I'll let experts figure out what that means. Both students are GREAT. My solution is to try a lesson with anyone, see how it works out. Forget about labels and go with your own intuition. It's all about teacher/student fit, and people with "letters" are no different. I was born before letters. If they had been around when I was young, I might have been labeled with several. smile


Piano Teacher
#1249957 - 08/15/09 05:48 PM Re: Does anyone have students on the autism spectrum? [Re: Gary D.]  
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EDWARDIAN Offline
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Hey BevP -

I just started teaching a 6 year-old "high functioning" child on the spectrum. His mom's an ER pediatrician who had some lessons as a child herself. Also teaching his 5 year-old sister. I give them a half lesson each - 15 minutes. Works out well time-wise. After the 3rd lesson - just today - we went from just banging on the piano with flat hands up & down the keyboard (first lesson) to playing from the Bastian Primer. We jumped from the black key songs to one simple one on the white keys - C D E F G - because he liked the picture of the train.

It worked! He actually used the right fingers most of the time, and could play the song a couple times. Mom & I were thrilled. laugh yippie

Last year I taught a blind student Grieg's March of the Dwarfs for MYSMA Level 6. You never know what you can do until you try. See how it works out, and let us know.


Good luck! wink



Joan Edward

Private piano teacher, 20+ years
EDWARDIAN45@hotmail.com

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