Teaching a 7 year old girl with Autism/ADD

by Melissa

I have a piano student with Autism, a 7 year old girl. I started her with the Bastien piano method, and she was doing well, learned to read music. She did have the same difficulty with rhythms and uneven counting, just like your student. When we had gone over halfway through the book, she began to get really frustrated and started having meltdowns.

She wants to play perfectly, and if she makes a mistake it really throws her. She told me she was overwhelmed and the music was too hard. So I decided to switch methods. This also made her panic but with the help of her parents, we helped her make the change.

I switched to Piano Adventures and so far she loves it, she is doing great. I found a couple of strategies that work well with her. I walk her through the practice routine at the lesson, one to two measures at a time, hands separate practice. I make sure she can play the piece before she practices it at home. I use a game that I found on Susan Paradis website, I think she calls it "over the rainbow" - we call it "the pony game" and use a "my little pony" to play. The student has to move the pony over the rainbow to win, and to do this she has to play a small section of music correctly 3 times in a row. My student loves this game!

I give a really detailed practice schedule (what she should practice, and when) to her parents so they can help her at home. I make sure to set clear attainable goals each week so that she can be successful.

And she is successful! She played in her first piano recital last June and did a fabulous job. She learned the piece of music and memorized it. Teachers have to be flexible, patient and understanding and realize that every student has a different learning style, whether they have autism or not.

I have another student, also 7, who I suspect has severe ADD. She has been taking lessons for about a year now and she just seems lost. I feel like I'm teaching variations on the same lesson over and over. I have tried every approach I can think of to help her understand the relationship between the notes on the page and the keyboard, but it is like she is starting over every week. She doesn't recognize middle C in treble or bass clef. Does anyone have any suggestions for teaching a child with ADD?


Thanks so much for sharing your ideas and activities. It helps to hear what has worked for you -- I have used variations of the "Over the Rainbow" game too! -- as well as what has not.

My own favorite way to cement Middle C (for some of my students, the ONLY note they are really sure of for a long time) is to hand-draw, on paper or a whiteboard, every week, the 2 staffs (but I leave off the clef signs) with a large space between them, and then draw a dashed line in-between the two staffs, on which I place Middle C.

As I am drawing I say,"How many lines in each staff (or ladder)?" as I hold up my hand, fingers parallel to the floor (for the 5 fingers of my hand). Five lines are drawn on the board. Sometimes I draw the lines, sometimes they draw them. Then I say, "And here is the INVISIBLE line that goes in-between the staffs... this is where Middle C is. We need to add its own temporary line. You draw a Middle C too," and the student draws one.

After this gets easy and automatic, we talk about how the C can move up and down in the space depending on what hand it goes with... but it stays Middle C, and it is found (go to the piano) right in the middle part of the piano under the name. Only when they can recognize and draw MC do I worry about drawing the next-door notes. And B is the "Baby" note (it has to rest on the top line of the bass clef) and D is the "Daddy" note (holding up the treble clef on his head because he is strong). I like to draw a little face on the Baby note, and a bonnet. I draw a cap on the Daddy note and a smile.

That's my suggestion, aside from getting her off the bench and doing games on the floor. I have a big cloth keyboard and some note-reading and key identification games that help break up the lesson for an antsy kid.

Please look all through the comment pages, many of which have additional comments, on this site. You may find other advice to help you. Some kids take a very long time to read, and for them, making pretty sounds and playing by rote can fill in some of the time as they gradually begin reading. Here are some resources for you to check out:

The Perfect Start for Note-Reading, and also
Free Piano Lessons for Kids, a series of short videos which teach by rote.

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