Teaching Autistic child who knows music but can't play what he knows

I have a question. I am a piano teacher who teaches beginners. I chose beginners because I believe in building a strong foundation.

All this changed when one day I was approached and asked to teach an autistic child. The first meeting was quite interesting. He showed that he had perfect pitch when he turned around and I played chords and he could tell me every note I played. I was amazed. Then he showed me all the chords he knows. He memorized every chord in a book that his parents bought him. The problem is he wants to play what he wants so he bangs on the piano.

We have set up some rules he has to follow. But my problem is that since he knows a lot about music where do I begin on instructing him on how he can take what he knows and turn it into something beautiful? He is a wonderful kid and I can see he possesses talent. If you have any thoughts I would appreciate hearing them.


Interesting... I'm guessing the first rule is NO BANGING ON THE PIANO! Yes, you have a challenge ahead of you.

Probably you've done a bit of talking with the boy's parents about how best to work with him, but in addition, you will be ahead of the game if you start reading whatever you can get your hands on. Here's a book my autistic student's mom loaned me a couple of years ago that I found helpful:

Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew

Look around this site at all the other pages about teaching an autistic child, too.

How old is this boy? Since he has this "library" of chords, so to speak, I'd teach him how to use it, initially, to make harmonic backgrounds for songs & music he already knows. Perhaps his mom would loan you a CD of music he likes, or direct you to some Youtube videos that feature theme music from a favorite show or video game. This is a lot of work! You will have to be able to figure out the tune and the chords yourself, then write it up as a lead sheet.

Alternatively, you can pick easy tunes he might already know and like, such as "Happy Birthday," and show him how to add chords as you and he sing the words.

But this is not the only thing I would do! I'd be bringing him along with notereading and ear-training, too. Can he figure out the rest of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" if you start the first few notes?

You say he knows a lot about music... so DOES he read notes already? Can he coordinate his two hands to play simultaneously, or is he still playing beginner one-hand-at-a-time stuff? Exactly how did he learn the chords in this book -- by reading and then going to the piano? If this is the case, then it seems that acquiring note-reading skills would be easy for him.

If he can actually play music (it's not clear from your description), then I think his best bet to playing beautifully is IMITATION, imitation of YOUR playing, phrase by phrase.

Please write back and tell us more about your student.

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