High Functioning Aspergers Student
Terah W., Kansas
I may have written once already about this but here I am again. I have a student diagnosed as “high functioning Asperger’s” and I have to say that after 3 fairly ordinary lessons with him, what I see is a really bright boy who has most of his world under his thumb. Mom verbally ‘makes excuses’ for him (in front of him) and even he parrots them.
“I get embarrassed easily!” –This after a sudden (and only to this point) deciding “I don’t want to”.
I had asked him to put his left hand on keys to mimic mine, side-by-side–not touching, and he decides he “doesn’t want to”. I am not unfamiliar with this ‘syndrome’ as one of my best friends has 1 of 8 with same diagnosis. I can see the Asp. in the friend’s son. What I see in my student is an uncontrolled, spoiled bright child; perhaps very bright.
Nothing in any lesson so far has indicated any else to me like my friend. What I mean by that is I have sensed/seen no real inability to ‘read’ or transmit emotion or facial communication, etc. Not that I am an expert, but I am an above average ‘people reader’ and I am picking nothing up that’s even the tiniest bit indicative of such a label.
When I replied to his “I don’t want to” with, “Okay, then. I guess we are finished for today. Thanks much, I’ll see you next week.”—well, he was pretty flustered then, too.
Mom picked up and ran with it, much to her benefit, saying, “okay, Marshall. Come on, we’ll see her next week.”
While being only 8, he looks 11 (and could pass for it on several levels) except for when he turns to his mom and says, “Mom!!! Come here! I neeeed you!!” (I rather expected to pick up some sort of difference in him that would seem a little off for normalized behavior. I saw none.) She is sitting right by him and says, “I’m right here.” She was very supportive actually. Then he insisted that she go with him into my waiting room to talk to him– She goes and finally she leans back in and says, ‘we’ll see you next week’.
Then she ‘made’ (sent?) him back in to say the same thing. He then says, “I’ll try it again next week” and I send him off with smile and ‘I’ll look forward to it’….
If you made it this far, I need suggestions about how to jump back in with him. If this is an accurate diagnosis, then I want to give him every opportunity to succeed. If it is simply a Territory Claiming issue, then I’m pretty certain I will just stick to my guns and move on right where we left off. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can change what I really believe: he’s running most shows he’s a part of and the school was so fed up with him they labeled him and now she is teaching him at home via public school’s online classes.
Merilee D., Utah
It sounds like you are working hard to do the best thing for all involved, which is great.
One thought I had is to be mindful of your role as a piano teacher, which is not to agree or disagree with a mental health diagnosis. I understand the importance of understanding and adjusting to kids with a diagnosis so they have a higher chance of succeeding, as well as the struggles and frustrations that come along with it. I have a student with high functioning Autism, and a couple with ADHD, as well as education in these areas and it can be tough. Regardless of his diagnosis however, if the parent, student, teacher dynamic is off then it sounds like it needs to be addressed. All kids have their own strengths and weaknesses and we need to find that balance where we adjust to them and they adjust to us and the program, with fair expectations.
We have all experienced the parents who we see over step their bounds, enable or spoil their children, are more controlling, and don’t appear to set healthy boundaries, (this has never been me of course) and this happens with all varieties of children, which then it may require a honest/loving conversation with the parent about how they are impacting their child’s success, which sounds like this may apply to your situation.
One thing I have done with one specific child I teach who struggles quite a bit with anxiety, is ask them and their parent what works for them, and I adjust where I can. I have tried to be curious and let them help me, help them (if that made sense) without so much pressure or need for defenses, and it can help to engage them in their own success.
Brandi L., Pennsylvania
I had the same experience with my own son. Ever since he was little he had “behavioral issues” and eventually he was diagnosed with Aspergers. People kept telling me he didn’t act like someone with that diagnosis and I came to realize that I had been enabling this behavior that caused his problems.
There is absolutely nothing you can say to the parent that will change her mind about her son’s diagnosis…if he really does not have Aspergers, she will have to come to that conclusion on her own. However, I see no reason that you should not treat him as any other student you teach. In my opinion, expectations should not change with each student…not the “performance” expectations, but rather the “commitment” expectations.
For example, you would certainly not expect a 6 year old to progress at the same rate as a 15 year old; however, you would expect them both to honor the regular practice time, watch the DVDs, show up for lessons on time, etc. If you have clearly defined expectations, you have every right to expect them out of each student, regardless of age, diagnosis, mental/emotional capacity, etc.
Shandiin S., Washington
I’m not sure I can tell you exactly what to do, but I have 2 sons diagnosed. Both with autism, but one much higher functioning. I can give you my two cents as I have dealt with many in the autism/aspergers community. If I allowed it my 2 sons may act the same. Each parent parents differently and I think you’re seeing that. I’m not saying anything against the mom because dealing with children with special needs is a challenge. With my experience with my boys I have found sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. Many times a major scene is made because they are not getting their way. However, we stand our ground and require whatever it is we’re asking so the future is better for all of us. It may not be pretty at first, but usually it’s got better & our sons have learned they aren’t going to get away with things just because of their diagnosis. Like others have said, set clear expectations. When my boys know what is expected they do much better. They also know I’m going to follow through & they may lose privileges if they aren’t behaving appropriate. However, there are times and usually they are triggered by something else going on in their lives that I know I have to adjust what we’re doing because they are in overload in some area of stimulation, sensory, stress, etc. Every child on the autism spectrum is different whether they have autism, high functioning, or aspergers. So something that works with one child may not work with another. When my first son was diagnosed I had someone tell me they didn’t think he had autism because she didn’t see him exhibit x,y, & z. He actually did most of the things she had mentioned, but she only saw him in one situation so she didn’t see the whole picture. My 2nd son people are floored when I tell them of situations we’ve had because all they see is my polite, well behaved son. You just never know all the other things that are going on. If the parent is open to talk that would be the best to try. Mention that you want this to be a positive experience for everyone & these are your expectations. Ask her for suggestions on how to make that happen. Then you’re not putting her on the offensive, but allowing her to help come up with ways to make what you want happen for her child. Also if the child has other therapists you could talk to for advice on how to handle things that may be a help. My boys have speech & occupational therapists outside of school & it’s very beneficial for everyone to communicate so everyone is on the same page.
Vera K., California
I only teach one little girl with autism, before I started simply music program I used to do interview sessions, one on one, where they get to know me and I get to know the family and student. My goal was to have an open door of communication with the parent and to make sure they know that we are on the same team, wanting best for their child who is my student. Also it gives me an opportunity to ask questions about their child, their personality, style of learning, their temperament and so forth. I would suggest, let mom know that your door is open to help her son and you need her help as a team together. There are things that she knows that you don’t know yet.
Mothers or parents they feel if we really care about their child and you’ll be surprised how they’ll open up sometimes just knowing that you really care for her child.