Teaching autistic student in a group
Found in: Special Needs & Learning Differences
I have a group of 3 boys and girls aged 6-7 in my studio. One of the 6-year-old boys is diagnosed autistic – minor. If his mom did not reveal this for me, I would have no idea that he is autistic, because he is a friendly and sweet child like any of those usual 6 YO kids. Every time when he comes into my studio, he would give me a hug. Often, he would come to the lesson with a picture he drew at home, and he would start off the lesson by telling me his story in the picture. The other 7 YO girl in the group is actually his friend being in the same school and in the same class. The two families only found out this lovely coincidence on the very first day in my piano class. We have had lessons for 5 months now. The three kids get along very well, helping each other out, and taking care of each other.
However, I do notice that this little boy has been progressing very slowly, in comparison to his two other friends in the group. He would come in one week doing ok with his current projects, but the next week he would be totally off track and did not remember anything. His mom said, he is like that too at home – sometimes he would play through his playlist with very little assistance, but sometimes his mom would have to run it all over again and again, even for the first song Dreams Come True.
In class, his attention span is very short. I can mostly only grab his attention in the very beginning of the lesson for few minutes where we review those previous projects. As soon as I help other kids review their songs, he would start wandering around in the house. At the early stage, his mom would try to keep him around at the piano, but she had to try so hard that they would be like fighting against each other actually being very distractive, and then he got depressed and did not even want to come to the piano for a second the rest of the evening. So that I told his mom to allow him to be himself as needed, when I teach new projects, it would be his mom around the piano learning, and she would be passing that on to him at home.
In this point of time, he is not doing any variations, arrangements, or accompaniments that I’m giving to the group, because mom said he would not be able to get them. We let him focus on those foundation songs, but still he is often struggling with them, especially when we process a little more information at a time, and when we try putting both hands together. What I’m currently doing, is to move small step each time on foundation, and supply the group with more variations, arrangements, accompaniments, and improvisation. Once he starts improvising on the piano, it actually requires some efforts to stop him playing.
I thought of moving him to a private because it will give me the space to help him progress more steadily and build healthier foundation, and I do feel the need to have that space for him and myself. But mom wants to keep him in the group, because she thinks her son can learn in a group environment, and she prefers her son to learn and be in a group. She says to her son at home that ‘hey look, your friends are doing this, so you can do this too’ and she thinks this strategy works for her. Also, I think she likes the fact that her sons has two dear friends playing music together. And me too I’m so glad to see this group of children being so close to each other and they all seem to enjoy the company. I admit her son actually benefits from being in a group somehow while making small progress on piano.
I just don’t know if we continue him in the group, only working on those foundation songs and improvisation, with the lack of variations, arrangements, accompaniments, will it be enough skills & experience for him to move on deeper, especially later when we introduce the Reading process?
Patti P., Hawaii
I’m interested in following this topic. I have a class of 3, and while the parents have not discussed any learning issues with me, I am familiar enough with the autism spectrum to guess that he is somewhere on the spectrum. He is also very sweet, and participates well in class.
His progress is much slower than the 2 girls, who are slightly older. One of the girls, in fact is learning very very quickly. I’m beginning to get concerned about how to handle this group going forward. One complication is that the two girls are friends, so they want to be together.
I have opened a dialogue with the father of the boy, because the boy seemed to get upset really easily one day and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing something to make him uncomfortable. I don’t want to lose this little guy as a student because he is doing fine, just at a much slower pace.
I have only been here about five minutes but being a disabled person [I am blind] I may be able to add a little perspective on this.
Personally i think you will eventually have to move your autistic student to a private lesson or a different group. Was thinking about how you said his mother says to him that his friends are doing thus and so so he can do it too. That only works for so long and may prove dangerous, psychologically, in the long run. This kid’s got a hard road to follow.
I’m not saying we should be soft on all our disabled students. We just have to find something that works out for all concerned. Hope I have helped some.