Teaching Autistic Children Music...

by Susie Norman
(Houston, Texas)

I have exclusively taught autistic children music, both in school and privately for the past ten years.

Much of the information given in this article is correct, however, I do not agree with some of the observations. For example, yes, any child plays something they have heard better than something they haven't heard. I find it better to give unknown music, otherwise the student is only playing by ear, and unfortunately may never learn notes. This occurs almost 100% of the time in autistics as opposed to neuro-typical children.

Every single autistic student I know greatly benefits from visuals. I use goal-oriented visual charts for motivation. For example....Johnny is working for (3) stars to earn (free play on piano, listening to CD of choice, watching animusic, etc)....whatever motivates that child. Visuals help to shorten processing time for the brain.

Autistics have many issues with fine motor skills and their fingers. Students with particular difficulties in this area should be referred to an Occupational Therapist, if they are not already seeing one.

I have more than one student with perfect pitch. Perfect pitch in autistics is more prevalent than in the general population.

For anyone teaching autistic children music, just remember that they are some of the most intelligent children I have ever taught. Just because you think they aren't listening, or don't understand, doesn't mean anything. These kids are great!!

Susie Norman
Music Teacher
The Westview School
Houston, Texas 77043


Thank you for your experienced input, Susie.

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Experience teaching autistic children is vital
by: Susie Norman

I would look for a teacher who has taught spectrum children. I currently have one student who had been dismissed by more than one music teacher because he cannot sit at the piano for very long. I've only had one student in over 10 years that sits at the piano the full lesson time. These kids need other music activities between sittng times at the piano. I use drums (very therapeutic), and other instruments and music games. A teacher who is familiar with autistic focus and sensory issues can better gauge when a break is needed. The other VERY important thing to look for is a teacher who sends a detailed note on what is to be done at home. Children are not intrinsically motivated to practice. Yes, kids like to play by ear and make sonorous sounds, but practice is work. Parents need specific guidance.

Susie Norman

Special Needs Music Teacher

Looking for Music Professional in Houston/Spring TX
by: Anonymous

I would like to contact Ms. Norman. I have been told she is one of the best instructors around. I'm a grandma looking for a music professional to teach my 10 yr old grandson. I'm in the Houston/Spring TX area. Thanks for any help anyone can give me. He is nonverbal but likes music.

Music Lessons for my daughter in Texas
by: Jessica

I have a 5-yr old daughter with ASD and I'm currently searching for a music teacher for her in Cypress Tx. What should I look for in a teacher and do you have any suggestions?

You may have to make many phone calls and talk to a lot of people to find the right teacher. Here is a place to start:


But also, please read a page I wrote especially for people who are hunting for teachers for special needs students:


You might also check out


I believe that if you try all the things I suggest on this page, that you WILL find a teacher for your child who will enjoy her, and whom she will enjoy.

As far as group classes go, I'd be careful not to put her with children who will be cruel to her. I know that one of my students became suicidally depressed, when quite a young boy, because of the cruelty of the children who couldn't put up with his "differences."

What about cost? That depends what part of the country you are in. Here in my town in Alaska, I charge about $25 for a half-hour lesson. In Juneau, a larger town north of here, teachers charge more. In some Mid-western towns, I understand, lessons are MUCH less costly. (Yet I remember when I was in college 30 years ago, half-hour lessons with my college profs were $20.)

Good luck, and best wishes,


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