Have you ever taught a student with special needs or learning difficulties? Do you have a student right now who is on the Autism Spectrum?
In today’s podcast epidsode Thembi Shears shares her fantastic insights into teaching students with ASD or ADHD. Thembi talks about what these terms mean, the difficulties you may encounter, and how to teach these students in the most effective and sensitive way.
As piano teachers we are in the privileged position of getting to teach students one-on-one. Unlike classroom teachers who have to take one approach for lots of different children, we get to adapt our teaching to suit each child.
So when a student with different needs walks in the door, we need a teaching toolbox to draw from to help them learn in a way that suits them. Take a listen to today’s podcast and you’re sure to learn something new that you can implement right away, or keep in the memory bank for the next time a student with ASD or ADHD walks through your door!
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- What ADHD & ASD mean
- How this affects students in the context of piano lessons
- Strategies for effective communication with students with ASD
- How to give clear instructions
- How to split up lessons into manageable chunks of time
Thembi’s ADHD Teaching Tips
- Provide organisational assistance
- Recognise and praise desired behaviour
- Provide rewards consistently and often
- Arrange the environment to facilitate attention
- Use active responsive instruction
- Movement, tactile experiences, games etc.
- Use multiple small periods of practice for rote tasks
- Foster self esteem
Thembi’s ASD Teaching Tips
- Social skills
- Remember that the child has limited understanding of friendships and play
- Keep your emotional reactions calm and predictable
- Do not be insulted by inappropriate reactions or a lack of empathy
- Language / communication
- Don’t force the student to make eye contact
- Remember that disruptive behaviour is not usually deliberate misbehaviour
- Avoid using complicated language, figurative speech or sarcasm e.g. Wait a minute
- Be as concrete as possible. Avoid vague questions like ‘Why did you do that?’
- Avoid verbal overload
- Pause between instructions and check for understanding
- Do not rely on the student to relay messages home
- Give concrete rules for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour
- Repetitive routine
- Establish a predictable environment
- Your behaviour, room set-up
- Prepare students for potential change
- Lesson time, concerts, group classes
- Use interests as motivation;
- Explore sounds, search for repertoire, re-name pieces, create visual cues to spark interest
- Do not try to stop self-soothing behaviours
- Sensory overload
- Discuss with the parents
- Limit excess noise
- Own set of stationery
- Use blinds / curtains
- No perfume / aftershave / scented candles
- Be aware of clothing colour
Items mentioned in this podcast:
- Blog article about asking more questions in piano lessons
- Blitz Games Books
- Blogs for off-the-bench activities
- Anne Crosby Gaudet’s blog www.pianoanne.ca
Joy Morin’s blog www.colorinmypiano.com
Susan Paradis’s blog www.susanparadis.com
Diane Hidy’s blog www.dianehidy.com
Wendy Stevens’s blog www.composecreate.com
Natalie Weber’s blog www.musicmattersblog.com
Music Teachers’ Helper is the software solution I use for running my private studio. If you’re still trying to keep track of invoices, student details, tax records and book loans on spreadsheets or pieces of paper, you really are wasting your time.
Music Teacher’s Helper is online scheduling and billing software which you can access from any computer, phone or tablet, and that will literally save you hours every month in studio admin.
One of the coolest things about it is that you can automatically email lesson reminders to students or parents to reduce the chance of missed lessons, particularly if you work on a rotating timetable. You can even build a studio website for free right in the program and it comes with a companion practice app for students so you can see exactly how much they’ve practiced.
Of course there are heaps more features, but the best thing to do is head to www.musicteachershelper.com/tim, register for a risk-free 30 day trial and if you choose to continue your access, you’ll get 20% off your first month.
Have you taught students with ASD or ADHD?
How did it go? Was there something Thembi mentioned that resonated with you, or a new idea you’re going to try?
Try this perspective on what’s wrong with person first language. 🙂
Loving getting a chance to hear Thembi talk on these topics! One quick thing – the use of “autistic” is very frequently used by people who use this word to describe *themselves*… Here’s a link that looks at this: http://autismmythbusters.com/general-public/autistic-vs-people-with-autism/
There are some fabulous blogs out there where this issue is dealt with. Many people prefer to use “autistic” than to say “I have autism” – the idea being that the autism is a part of who they are, not a disease they want to get rid of. They perceive autism as being something very different to cancer, not least because autism is not something you can cut out of yourself, or radiate away…
Thanks Elissa, that’s a great insight that I hadn’t considered. I know that many people previously diagnosed with Asperger’s use the term as a positive and it forms part of their identity to do so. It makes complete sense that the term autistic is used in the same way.
Hi Tim & Thembi,
Fantastic and informative podcast … thank you. Valuable for all teachers and parents. I had one question regarding routines. How would a student react to “mixing up” the activities within a lesson. I have a student who is 8 years old who is home schooled but comes to me for music. His fine motor skill is not developed enough for him to play the piano but we have successfully started him on the glockenspiel. There are times when I can see his attention drifting but I think changing to a different activity would be too much for him. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed the podcast and found it useful. I would suggest first speaking with the parents about this, as they will know their son’s behaviour far better than I do! How do they find he copes with change to an activity?
Instead of changing to a different activity perhaps you can rather change what you are doing within that activity. ie. If you are working on a piece on the glockenspiel can you stay there (rather than changing place / instruments) and get his attention back with something simple like ‘Play the G 5 times’ or play him a familiar tune (e.g. Happy Birthday) and see if he can guess the songs? Something short like that to re-grasp his attention but that doesn’t change the whole activity might be enough for him. Definitely chat to the parents though and see what they think 🙂
Thanks for your response. I’ll definitely give these ideas a go. I was hoping to see your presentation at APPC2015 but it is sold out!!! 🙁 I hear they are podcasting sessions so hopefully I’ll be able to download yours.
Thanks Tim and Thembi,
This is a great checklist to have and I think you have covered all the bases. Another example of abstract language to avoid is “that piece is a bit rusty”! As a registered music therapist I see alot of children on the spectrum and who have a wide range of intellectual functioning as well. The higher functioning children invariably end up learning the piano and do well, participating in concerts that i put on which include duet playing. The benefits of being involved in these events are clear – social recognition and connection, self esteem and self expression.
It is timely to have this discussion after the segment on the TV on Daphne Proietto. I think we may see a rise on awareness of the benefits of music for people on the spectrum.
Thanks for your comment. That is a great example of figurative speech that might be commonly used by piano teachers, thank you for sharing! I love that you have outlined the benefits of being involved in concerts and particularly duets; I agree that music can be such a positive influence in those spheres. Building self-esteem and a sense of identity through music lessons is something so valuable to individuals that we as teachers are privileged to be a part of.