Just Beginning a Young Boy with Autism

by Beth

I have just had a young boy scheduled to begin piano lessons, he has autism... I have never taught a autistic child and am looking forward to the experience. I plan on calling him parents as asking about general things to look for or avoid... any suggestions or help would be great - from what I understand, he came home from school one day and went to the piano and touched Middle C and said "C".. then "D" and then "E".... He is 6 years old.

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Get to Know him
by: Michelle

My first advice to you is to get to know him just like you would any other child. Autistic children are children first and you'll find that true in many ways as you get to know this boy. Of course, that said, no two autistic kids are exactly alike. Many autistic kids, unless they are low functioning, can be taught using a typical piano curriculum. It's all about the way in which you go about teaching him that is the key.

Involve his parents as you would with other 6 year olds. Tell the parents since they know their son best, that especially in the beginning, they should stay. Sometimes the parents are able to explain a concept in simpler or more creative terms since they do this normally with kids on the spectrum. Find out if certain sounds lights sensory issues(like touching his hands etc.) can be problematic.

I had one boy (6 years old) who was able to read at a 5th grade level and did very well learning the songs. He always had to read the pages we were on. That was probably a first for me to have ANY kid who would actually read what was there! We did a combination of My First Piano Adventures, Pianimals, and my own simple songs. The biggest issue was his dexterity in his fingers which MFPA was perfect for. However, he did not like sad or scary songs. SO songs like the one about the dinosaur or the monster bus driver had to left out entirely or introduced with a lot of finesse. I decided to forgo trying to teach the concept of happy-major and sad-minor for the time being until I came up with something else. I was still able to give him minor songs but didn't explain the feeling to him at that time. I waited. That was a good example of the mom sitting quietly and letting me do my thing until she quickly interjected, "We don't do sad things!" She quickly explained it another way and was able to head off a tantrum. So even though you are the teacher, allow and insist (at least for a while) that the parent be there.

As you get to know the child, you'll be surprised at how much you can go with your gut like you do in teaching your other students a concept. You will also be surprised at how much this child will teach you. I find that I use a lot of the lesson plans geared towards my autistic kids, with my typical kids aw well.

Good luck!

Just Beginning
by: Dana


Will his parents be part of this venture? When you give him assignments to do at home, he is going to need help remembering how to do them even more urgently than the ordinary beginner. They need to be able, at least initially, to do what you ask him to do.

I would plan this first lesson very carefully with just a few, very limited goals. Think of how you would teach any new beginner, but get those first principles across as if you had only the one chance... in case his memory is long and stubborn!

You might try teaching him "Hot Cross Buns" with the C, D, and E he has already identified on the piano. Mary Had a Little Lamb is another possibility -- all by rote, of course.

Teach him his finger numbers, then have him play identification games with you... "Touch your 2 finger to your chin..." etc. Expect him to be easily distracted or confused if you start piling instructions on... he may still be working out your first question, and if you interrupt him with another, he may have to start back at square one again. So, until you know him well, give him lots of time to respond. Maybe he won't need it, but maybe he will.

Give him the rest of the musical alphabet if he seems ready, and ask him to find the A B C D E F G keys all over the piano -- UP, HIGH, DOWN, LOW. He will be learning a new vocabulary.

For a finger exercise, try "Hammer Scales" to start with (sounds brutal, I know) -- each finger struck 3 times in a row. Much easier than regular scales. 1-1-1, 2-2-2, 3-3-3, etc. S-L-O-W-L-Y. (Six-year-old boys tend not to have good finger coordination.) This also reinforces the finger numbers.

Take careful notes as soon as you can after his lesson, so that you will remember what to review with him the following week.

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