I just began teaching a little five year old boy with autistic-like features, brought on by a seizure disorder and AEDS.

by Kerri Z
(Toms River, NJ )

The little boy I began teaching is five years old. He has difficulty communicating, and also has some motor difficulties. It is very challenging to get him involved with anything for more than a few seconds, unless I am playing nursery rhymes he enjoys.

We have only had 3 lessons so far. After the first lesson it was clear that I would have to take a different angle than any other beginning lessons I have had before. He would not sit at the piano until the very end of the lesson. He was interested in everything but the piano until his stuffed hippo sat at the piano with us and played some keys.

I have not been successful having the little boy use separate fingers on the piano.

For the second lesson, I decided to try some games like point to the p for the music to be soft, etc. He really enjoyed this game and clearly learned piano and forte. For the second game we played I used the Brother John Melody for "Where is C". At the end of of every line the little boy's job was to play C with one finger. This lesson went well. At the end the little boy hugged me.

The third lesson was a little disorganized, I felt. Instead of starting with nursery rhymes like usual, I tried to have the little boy sit right down at the piano, which he did but when asked to play any black key he liked, he began to try to pull out the black key from the piano. He then stated that he was tired. He also kept asking what time it was. So we went on playing nursery rhymes, and "Where is C", in which he did participate by playing C seventy percent of the time. We also tried "where is D".

I have a little girl with developmental problems, and would love to help this little boy any way I can. Do you have any suggestions?


Kerri, you have already come up with 3 great ideas that I have never thought of before -- the stuffed animal at the piano to hook him, the piano/forte game, and having him find "C" again and again. You must have a wonderful imagination.

On this website there are many comment pages offered by many different teachers. I expect it would take you some time to get through them all -- there are also comments on the comments. Please continue your reading, and checking out some of the links here and on other sites. There are lots of books written about helping children like your student learn more effectively.

Most of all, go with the flow and don't beat up on yourself -- be flexible and don't expect him to learn something new every week. He may really love routine and the same old thing again and again, which means that when he once learns something, he really knows it.

Hold off on note-reading for a long time, or go very very slowly. Even for a child who does not have autistic tendencies, 5 years old is really young. I almost never take students that young, because it is so hard for them to focus for a half hour. And who is going to help them remember what to do when they get home, unless Mom has been there sitting in the other room listening.

You might think of this time with him as "Music and Piano Exploration" for the first few months... explore sounds the piano can make, let him see inside your piano -- do more with the "p" & "forte" sounds. Let him try the pedal. Now, others may disagree with me, but you want him to associate music with fun and joy,not with failure.

Keep looking for more answers,and give yourself some quiet time just to sit and think about lesson ideas that make sense to YOU.

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