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I teach a 5 year old autistic boy who blows me away with what he can do. He can play the melodic line of really complex songs by ear. He is now starting to play both hands together and adding in thirds and fifths. His sense of rhythm is amazing. On basic songs he can start on just about any note and play it in the correct key without even thinking. He can also start on any note and play a perfect major scale even though he has no concept of what a scale is. Teaching him basics, such as note names, is difficult. But I played an F for him the other day and asked him the note name - he said E sharp - we have never talked about sharps! I'm at a loss as to what to do with him. Would appreciate any advice and/or resources to help him. He's an amazing little guy!

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I'd say keep reading/music notation out of your teaching for now. Just celebrate and expand his ear. Teach him songs. Sing to him. Maybe he'll be able to join you vocally. Have fun!

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I think both his age and his condition can help him become a good pianist.

With regards to his condition, you should determine this:

1) How difficult is it to really connect with him? Some autists don't talk at all. Others talk, but there will be misunderstandings on both sides. Many feel unconfortable having to communicate, except when they seek information or when you belong to the small circle of "trusted" persons. The more you know about the effect that your words and your behavior will have in him, the better you can adapt to him. You want to establish a channel that he can accept, and eventually use to his advantage.

2) What's his level of intelligence? Some autists are exceptionally intelligent (commonly known as Aspergers). Others lack capacity, not only at interacting with people. You want to calibrate your expectations despite having difficulties reading him.

If he's at least average intelligent (100+), try to teach him everything. You want to dive deep into the areas that he's interested in, but keep offering him the rest too.

Abstract concepts like note names should be easy for him to learn. He probably just doesn't see why they are of any use to him. Telling him that they serve to "communicate with people", might not exactly change this. Rather try to show him other useful aspects of having those 7 named notes. For example, every note with the same name "works" in almost the same way and is interchangable. The concept makes chord inversions easy, even if you never want to say the note names aloud.

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It is not unusual for people with autism to have an uneven intelligence - very good in some aspects, and weak in other ones. Your student seems to be like that. I would advise you to spend a short time every session on those basic things that are hard for him, such as the names of the notes, using different angles of approach, and a much longer time on everything that comes easy to him. If there is no progress at all in this basic stuff, then you drop it for a while and see if you can give it a try again a couple of months later.

Good luck, and enjoy the adventure!


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I think you shouldn't give up on subjects he is not comfortable with. You should use a different starting point: starting from a comfort zone, using his great musical ear...and then introducing the name of the notes through some games that you suppose he should like!


Music, i feel must be emotional first and intellectual second
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Originally Posted by sheilaju
...He's an amazing little guy!...
And who isn't amazing when you get down to it?! He's just amazing in a way that gets your attention.

It's cool that he can do the things that he can do, but he likely doesn't have any idea how he learned those things, and he may not have any way to connect those things to anything else.

Since teaching note names has proven difficult for you, it will be useful for you to try different ways to teach. It may help him to have some visual supports with printed letters and images of a keyboard. It may be helpful for him to assemble paper a paper keyboard like a puzzle. It may help him to hear you say the note names while he plays. It may help him to repeat the names after you. He may take naturally to reading music or he may not.

Some of my kid clients with (and without) autism have responded well to a little lesson on the difference between "things I know" and "things I don't know and I am learning." Within this framework you can draw his attention to where things he knows fit in to a larger picture. You can help him to both value his abilities and to be open to new ways to expand his skills.

Keep in mind that if he can play a major scale, he absolutely does have a concept of what a major scale is, but his concept is probably not the same as your concept.


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I think this is a better approach as an intermediate step to learn c,d,e....
The most important is to find a common language to understand a little bit each other.


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Teaching Do-Re-Mi may be fine, but keep in mind that if a kid is struggling to learn and needs an intermediate step, you will want to make sure that the first step will actually be useful in the final target.

When I worked at a school for kids with autism, most of the staff were adamant about teaching small kids to say "bathroom" rather than "potty" because by the time they learned "potty" they were old enough that it was no longer appropriate and it would be like starting all over again to teach an age appropriate form of the request.


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I would go with the advice given by Malkin in the post above the Julie Andrews one. I understand that Malkin has worked with special needs students including along the Aspergers spectrum. (Pls correct me if I'm wrong, Malkin). That post may seem a bit obtuse, because it's hard to cram a lot of knowledge into the tiny space of a thread post, but seems correct. In my own background, I have some training in learning disability teaching, and knowledge about the spectrum.

I especially liked this:
Quote
It's cool that he can do the things that he can do, but he likely doesn't have any idea how he learned those things, and he may not have any way to connect those things to anything else.
and this
Quote
Keep in mind that if he can play a major scale, he absolutely does have a concept of what a major scale is, but his concept is probably not the same as your concept.
They seemed on track.

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Originally Posted by keystring
... Malkin has worked with special needs students including along the Aspergers spectrum....

Yep. Lots and lots of 'em. In public schools and in a private school just for kids on the autism spectrum. Pretty much the whole spectrum with the entire range of functioning. It's pretty hard to generalize, but I believe that every kid can learn.


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I just want clarify some essential differences between a public school program and an 1to1 customized program.
public school program:
-students adapt to a common predefined program
-results driven
-top down approach
-reshape student to a student model
-could be something like 30h/week.

1to1 customized program:
-a customized program adapts to a specific student with very diversified objectives. (except some standard predefined programs like Suzuki, ABSMR, RCM etc)
-process or event driven (how)
-bottom up approach or top down approach are used to adapt the specific situation or issues.
-the teacher just put his magic touches
-in general 1h/week

In case of piano lessons, nobody can predict how far a student can go in the beginning (especially in the case of autism). In this case, it is important to run a bottom up program, do well every small intermediate step and see what happens.
As any customized program itself is composed exclusively by intermediate steps, so leave any intermediate step permanently is very unlikely.
Do,re,mi... was the way my teacher has introduced me to read the music notes, despite all materials were written with c,d,e,f... I am happy with what I can do with the piano.

Last edited by zonzi; 10/04/21 08:28 AM.

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I don't want to derail the thread further, but anyone wishing for an accurate description of programs for kids with autism, whether public, private, group, or individual may contact me privately.


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