My First Student with Aspergers
Found in: Special Needs & Learning Differences
Vee S., Florida
I started my first child with Aspergers syndrome last week. We have had two lessons. He is a very sweet young boy who is seven and he has a twin sister. At our lesson he all of a sudden starts to cry. Tears just streaming down his face. At first I was taken back but the parents told me that he has a hard time controlling his emotions and get frustrated when he doesn’t get things right away. I am going very slow with him.
When I asked him to do it again he told me he already knows it when it is very apparent he does not. Today he told me I am not his piano teacher and he wants his old piano teacher. She taught him about six months ago and has since moved away.
His parents are very good about correcting him and making sure he shows respect. Then he looks at me with those big eyes and says OK. I am so new at this but feel so much for this little boy. I want him to love the piano. I know it will take time and I will give him all the time he needs.
I also teach his twin sister and his older sister who is 14 and they are doing well. I hope they can help their brother.
Elaine F., South Carolina
I had a student who did not have Aspergers, but was very fragile, emotionally. I gave him micro segments in the lesson. For example DCT S 1 , just first note. Got that? Sure, I can do that, anybody can! SO I’m starting the habit of victory. Then the next four notes…. That usually went well. Then I’d say something like, oh, that’s enough for today– do you want me so show you what we might do next week? and I’d put the S1 together. He’d say, can I do that? I’d express concern that I don’t want to give him too much. If he’d beg to want to do it, I’d let him. Sometimes he did, sometimes it (whatever the project was) was too much…If I erred and asked too much of him, he’d immediately develop a I HATE THIS SONG protective attitude. Rather than make it a territory issue, I let it go, figuring that this child was not my therapy client and to help him develop more piano skills and trust with me before I asked him to confront such a scary thing for him.
He never did learn Ode to Joy, though he did do the rest of Foundation Level 1. At the end of last year his mom took him off his meds, and he was unable to focus and mom gave up. She has decided to try it again this year, should be interesting…
Sue C., AU
I have a student with this syndrome. I moved this student to a private lesson. I do foundation songs only usually teaching only one segment of song per lesson, breaking down song as small as necessary to have a great victory at each lesson. I have done very few variations and arrangements with the student who is gaining confidence playing nursery rhymes from Children’s Songs which I began at the end of level one. Now and then the parent will phone to cancel a lesson as student is having a bad day. I completely understand and we usually do a few catch up lessons in holidays. My advice is to take things at the pace of your student. Go slow rather than fast.
Marg G., AU
I also have taught a child with this syndrome and the mum is a teacher in the school where I teach. She is very well versed with the symptoms of this syndrome so was very helpful with
giving me tips on teaching him.
Tears can mean a multitude with these children. At my concert an adult student was playing a beautiful piece and I looked over to see this little chap snuggled up to his mum with tears streaming down his face and when I asked what was wrong, as I knew he’d played very well, his mum said it was just that he found the song the adult was playing very moving. He was only seven at the time.
They also can “suffer” from overload to their senses if too much is happening at one time and they become very confused and have difficulty coping. I found he always worked better in a one on one situation because I could adjust easily to his needs.
His mum confessed that she took him to a circus, without thinking it through, and he absolutely freaked because he was inundated with sound, movement and color all at once which was way too much for him to cope with.
Good luck – I don’t know that I’ve been very helpful but just adding to the the good things that have already been posted.
There is a book called “All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome” which I have read and this little chaps mum said it very clearly spells out the basic issues of the syndrome. It is a children’s book and as I have a cat I just had to read it. It’s amazing the similarities and apparently it was written to comfort children with Aspergers so they feel that they are not alone. Worth a read – probably be able to get it from the library. I googled it and it is very easy to find.
Annette S., California
My student’s mom with Asperger’s taught me to take a break half-way into the lesson every week. We get away from the piano, and I let this student ask me any question he may have about anything in the world.
It has really worked to have this little break. It is fun, too!
Karina S., California
I have a family: Two kids, one boy and one girl with a mom that has this condition. The boy shows signs as well. She told me after several lessons (which I suspected something) and even though I am a hugger – you know us Latinas! I give her complete space. She even has a comfy chair in the studio, just for her. As we have shared sessions together, she is starting to come up to play “JJ” is what I call my piano, but she waits until the end of our session.
I am certainly not an expert by any means, but from what I have discovered, both mom and son take things literally sometimes and I have to unfold concepts one step at a time. They have really warmed up to me and I all three are doing very well. I paired them with another family one time to see how it would go and for this family it’s definitely better to keep them on their own.
I really like Annette’s sharing that they take a break – I’ll try that!
Laura L., California
I just wanted to share my story of teaching a boy who was diagnosed with Aspergers, as this story seems a little different from the others.
This 10 year old student of mine went through about 9 Foundation Levels of Simply Music, was well into the Reading Program, knew ALL the variations and arrangements that I had taught him, and was able to keep his Playlist alive and nearly perfect. He had perfect pitch and needed very little instruction to learn his songs.
His struggle was with the reading, as it was much easier for him to play naturally after watching and listening to me play, and learning the tools for the songs. He also had some emotional challenges with his mother, and seemed to do better when she was not in the lesson. He would refuse to play with feeling or sensitivity in lessons, but then in a performance would take out all the stops and play absolutely beautifully! I believe he needed some control and power in his life, and this was one way he took it–to play insensitively in lessons!
I remember he also would come into the studio and immediately plant himself on the couch. He would claim he didn’t want the lessons, yet he would continue to learn and practice routinely. There were occasional tears of frustration, but never about his ability at the piano.
He had to stop lessons when he entered middle school, as his emotional challenges increased dramatically and his family was advised to cut back ANY activities for him. Sad, and I don’t know how he is doing now (several years later…).
I do know he had a very, very strong musical bone in his body which will never break, and he was a pleasure to teach for the couple of years he was my student.