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#2118606 - 07/16/13 03:52 PM Teaching a child with Cerebral Palsy
Destiny123 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 08/30/10
Posts: 16
Loc: Ontario, Canada
I have taken on a new student who is friends with a current student of mine. She is 9 years old and has CP; I was not told this initially but I am up for the challenge. I have been told that she cannot walk but has equal mobility in both of her hands. Our first lesson is next week.

Does anyone have experience teaching a child with Cerebral Palsy. Is it possible to use a method book? I generally use Piano Adventures.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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#2118688 - 07/16/13 06:23 PM Re: Teaching a child with Cerebral Palsy [Re: Destiny123]
Minniemay Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
CP affects people differently. It is not a cognitive disease, so any method book should be fine. You'll have to evaluate her physical characteristics as you work with her.

I had a CP student years ago and found him a most delightful student. He had severe limitations with his hands, but he found such joy in what he was able to accomplish. By the time I moved away, he was studying in Music Pathways C.
B.A., Piano, Piano Pegagogy, Music Ed.
M.M., Piano

#2118887 - 07/17/13 02:18 AM Re: Teaching a child with Cerebral Palsy [Re: Destiny123]
Saranoya Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 968
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Hi Destiny,

I'm not a piano teacher. I am, however, a piano student with Cerebral Palsy.

Cerebral Palsy is a term that covers many different kinds of movement disorders, and they can all affect people to varying degrees. In some, it affects all four limbs. In some, only the lower limbs are involved, or only the right or left side of the body. The way in which movement is impaired also differs. Some people have too much muscle tone and spasticity (which is the inability for a muscle to adequately respond to certain kinds of voluntary movement) or athetosis (near-constant involuntary movements). Some people have too little muscle tone and/or ataxia (difficulty with balance and fine motor skills) and sometimes vision problems. Some people have a combination of all of the above.

From what you've written, I'm going to assume that your nine-year-old probably has the same kind of CP that I do, which is spastic diplegia. It affects only the lower limbs, although there can be some 'sympathetic' impairment in the upper limbs, if the lower limbs are affected severely enough. It manifests primarily as elevated muscle tone in the affected limbs, along with range of motion difficulties caused by spasticity.

For playing the piano, this shouldn't cause any big problems, unless and until you start trying to teach her to use the pedal (which will then require some creativity on both your parts and, depending on the severity of her condition, may not be possible at all). Before that, she may progress a little more slowly than the average student (because CP kids usually have trouble automating motor skills), and you may or may not have to compromise on posture while playing.

But I don't get the impression, from your post, that you have actually met this girl yet. That, I can tell you right now, will be far and away the most important factor.

Her CP might be so mild as to be almost unnoticeable, in which case you shouldn't worry about it at all. I know of a professional clarinetist who has spastic hemiplegia (the same kind of CP we were talking about above, except that it affects only her left arm and leg). She was in the same graduating class as my music theory teacher, who just finished conservatory. So obviously, whatever motor difficulties she has are not a very significant impairment to her progress as a musician.

But even if it isn't that mild, my advice to people asking questions about how to teach those with any kind of disability is always going to be the same: never assume any of your students' limitations are an insurmountable hurdle, unless it's clear that the student has no interest in surmounting it.

Teach her the same way you would teach any other student. Do this even if her parents are worried that you might not be able to. When I was little, my mother had the well-meaning but annoying habit of writing letters to my teachers before I'd even met them, in which she wrote something to the effect of me being 'a child with limited potential'. Some teachers knew what to do with that (i.e., ignore it and see for themselves what I was capable of). Others took her at her word, and lowered their expectations accordingly. Which meant they didn't dare to challenge me, which meant they ultimately taught me very little.

You should assume that nothing is impossible. If it *is*, in fact, impossible, the girl may not tell you, but you will know. A student who is physically incapable of doing something looks very different from one who can't do it because she isn't trying, or not trying correctly.

That's my advice. If you have any other questions, I'm here. But if you go at this with the expectation that it won't be all that different from teaching anyone else, then I believe it will work out beautifully. The most important thing is for you to believe that, too.

Oh, by the way, as Minniemay said: CP is not, in and of itself, a disorder that affects cognitive abilities. Sometimes (mostly in severe cases) it affects the ability to speak clearly, which can give those who don't know any better the impression that something is wrong on the cognitive level. But in CP, any difficulty speaking is purely a matter of physical impairment.

I hope you can tell from my posts here that I am in no way cognitively impaired, despite the fact that I use a wheelchair due to my CP. Assume the same is true of your student.
Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.

#2118949 - 07/17/13 07:53 AM Re: Teaching a child with Cerebral Palsy [Re: Destiny123]
malkin Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 4166
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Very well said Sara. I'm glad you didn't see yourself as having 'limited potential!'
Having power is not nearly as important as what you choose to do with it.
– Roald Dahl

#2119368 - 07/18/13 12:03 AM Re: Teaching a child with Cerebral Palsy [Re: Destiny123]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1974
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
Splendid post, Saranoya. I had a high school age girl with CP as a piano student some years ago. She came to me at about age 17, though first her mom - who was in education herself - suggested I read a bit about CP, and then simply be mindful that her lovely daughter had some spatial difficulties (discerning left from right at the piano, for example, or negotiating her way to and from my house). Otherwise, Mom hoped I would treat her daughter normally, and might work with her at theory, composition, and piano, so she could pursue her dreams of songwriting.

Daughter and I worked together for 2 or 3 wonderful years, and I scarcely was aware of this apparent disorder, since my student was intensely musical, quite intelligent, and motivated to do her best. She also sang like an angel, and wrote mature poetry. We had a great time together, and any piano teacher would have been proud to count her as a pupil.


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