Ideas for teaching autistic student
Found in: Special Needs & Learning Differences
Kym N., California
I would like collect ideas for teaching autistic students (the less cognitive ones).
When these students don’t engage, learn with the diagrams or can’t make sense out the diagram, what other ways have you found it helpful?
I have used singing, hand-over-hand help, taking turn games, listening a guess…etc.
Darla H., Kansas
I have never taught an autistic student, but have a 24-yr-old daughter (Jo) with special needs who I’ve been teaching SM for the past 5 ½ years. My daughter functions around the developmental age of 7 or 8. She’s never been officially diagnosed with autism, but I’ve been told she has some autistic tendencies. I will share some of the strategies I’ve used with her, and perhaps you’ll find some of them to be useful in your situation.
One discovery that I made right away is that doing small chunks is essential and best not to move on too soon. She also had a pretty short attention span in the beginning, and it was better to just go over a small amount of material each day and be very diligent about spending a few minutes EVERY day.
Jo is still unable to PRACTICE on her own. In fact, since I am her teacher and her life coach, I’ve never had a specific lesson day for her. We sit down at the piano together 5 or 6 days a week and I work on current projects with her. Whenever she’s ready for another little piece of information, we add it on. Obviously, you can’t see your students every day, but I would make sure that the life coach is very involved at home. Giving a smaller amount than could be accomplished may be better because of the feeling of success when the student comes to the next lesson.
As I said, Jo is still unable to practice on her own, but she does have a separate time that she plays her playlist on her own. Since routine is so important to her, she plays through her playlist 7 days a week—some years she has missed as few as 4 days for the entire year!! So it may be beneficial to talk to the life coach about really separating out the time to practice current projects and the time to play through playlist pieces.
Most of the diagrams have made sense to Jo. But, I do use the white board a lot with her to make things bigger, emphasize certain parts, and give her a chance to write things herself. We always have the diagram up at every practice and go over it each time. The daily repetition does more than anything.
Jo is not able to sing or say things out loud while she learns a piece, so I always do it for her. Any time using our external speaker would be helpful, I do it. So she’s always hearing it, even if she doesn’t say it herself. This could be another way you could train the life coach to be helpful in facilitating learning.
I hope that you will find some of this useful, maybe even to just help brainstorm more of your own ideas. Good luck!
Melanie W., Michigan
I have a blind 28-year-old student who is on the autism spectrum. If anything, I have learned that each student is unique. She brings much joy into my studio when she comes. I like Neil’s statement, “As long as it takes…” especially as it applies to Erica. She adamently resists learning anything new and hates correction, but if I am lovingly firm and encourage her, I can teach her a tiny new thing every once in awhile. She has a private lesson and would not do well in a group setting. We began Sleeping from Fnd 2 today, and the only thing I tried to teach her was the right hand from the first half of the song. Since she is blind, I use the diagrams for the life coach who comes with her, to make sure she gets it. I do a lot of touching her fingers to teach her new music, which she allows me to do.
She loves to sing, but totally throws out the written lyrics and comes with a new set of lyrics each week that we take turns singing as she plays through her entire playlist. She needs complete predictability, so we often have to stop between songs so she can know what is coming after the upcoming song, etc.
I am blessed to be able to work with Erica.