Students with Autism Can Participate in Music Ensembles

by Lacey
(Dallas, TX)

I am a Special Education teacher in Texas and have worked with students with autism of all grade levels for many years. I would like to address your concern regarding students with autism, or any other disability, participating in a music program.

I have found that, while some will have a particular strength or savant-ability in music, many are not able to keep up with the repertoire and rigor that come with advanced learning of music skills. This being said, there are many aspects of music that they can access that actually can assist them in learning life skills, for example:

*listening for start and stop cues
*waiting your turn to play
*remaining in your seat
*keeping a steady beat
*concert etiquette

At some point it does become challenging because the discipline of a music classroom requires that everyone play together, in time, and with appropriate loudness/softness. So, therefore, his or her participation may be limited, especially at competion or concert time. Nonetheless, music lends itself for other opportunities available to those who may not be able to access all aspects of music.

It just takes some creative thinking that is also reasonable for the general music educator to carry out, with all students (general and those with disabilities) in mind for the greatest success.


Good points. It's a big job being a music group director, with so many needs and goals to meet. And there is so much that being a band member can teach you, as you point out.

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Music and Autism - No Child Should Be Left Out
by: Maggie Cat

I am a music teacher in a special school and most classes have at least 5 or 6 autistic children.

I have learned how much they all enjoy music. They have, over time, learned to accept the sound in the class. We play recorders, percussion (including loud djembes), dancing and singing. The important aspect deciding who enjoys themselves in a music program or not, and who is 'successful' or not is the attitude of the teacher.

Do we really have the right to decide who learns music? Music is beneficial for everyone, not just those who are musically 'inclined'.

How sad your children have missed out on music when clearly music is part of what makes us human. I have taught autistic children and deaf children music successfully and I had to do a lot of work to learn how these children needed to be taught.

Please don't give up on music. Just find a better teacher, or a teacher more suited to teaching your child.


I AGREE that teachers shouldn't "give up on music." But I don't think that's what Anonymous was suggesting, Maggie. And she was talking about a student, not her own child.

It is not always the teacher who is to blame. Anonymous sounds like a very insightful teacher, intuiting that her little student perceives the new class with those who "don't comply" as punishment.

Your question could be turned around to say, Do we really have the right to FORCE everyone to learn music, RIGHT NOW, in this situation? Personally, I didn't start music lessons until I was 8 years old. This little gal won't be ruined for life if she waits a year, or two, or three...

Successful Ensemble Playing as a Student with ASD
by: Rob Jourdain

My only violin student diagnosed with ASD, plays with a junior orchestra. I don't have any input into the ensemble, but last weekend attended a concert that they gave.
I saw that he stayed seated, although tended to slump down in his chair, and fidget a bit, but played his part very well.
He did have a tutor sitting next to him, which might have helped.
He certainly stayed focused for a lot longer than he does in lessons.

Autistic Child That Hates Regular Music Class
by: Anonymous

I work with a 6 year old girl who is autistic. She is an amazingly intelligent child who has made great strides in school.. routine... joining in etc.

Over the past 2 years she has participated in a lot of musical games and an annual Dancing in the park that my school division does each year. It was difficult for her to learn all she needed to but she did! Basically, she doesn't enjoy regular music classes and finds ways to leave anyway she can.

This year we have a new music teacher that has huge expectations for the children. She is more unhappy in this class than in any other.

The Student Services solution to her non-compliance in this class is to start extra music classes mainly for those autistic children that don't comply. My student sees this as a punishment as Music class is not enjoyable for her.

Should they persist in this extra class?? I love music myself, but it isn't for every child... I am worried she will regress, act out and be back at square one if these classes go on.


Hi, Anonymous,

I have to agree with you. The situation is not fitting her right now; she is the square peg in a round hole.

It sounds as if it is the games and the dancing that appeal to her right now, at least in group situations. Music tends to demand higher accuracy for good performances. And that is not out-of-reach for most children, in one-on-one situations (when the desire is there).

I'm with you -- the girl is only 6 years old! Let her opt out of music for a while.

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