Teaching Non-verbal Children with Autism
by Rhonda Langley
I am currently a special education teacher in the public schools, working with children who in many cases have no functional speech and significant cognitive impairment. Music has always been my first love, and I have taught piano lessons over the years here and there, as well as working with my own two sons on the piano, both of whom are quirky and one who is diagnosed with high-functioning autism.
My dream, which I plan to put into effect in Fall 2013, is to teach music lessons full time specializing in students with autism. Right now I'm in the process of creating my own piano lesson method for students with significant cognitive impairment. When we talk about "teaching children with autism" we really should define more what we mean. It's a spectrum disorder. What works for kids like my son, on the high end of the spectrum, may not work for kids like my students, on the lower end of the spectrum.
The method I'm creating will not focus on posture or hand position, for instance. I'm thinking of students who could enjoy the piano as a life-enriching experience, but who are never going to sit at a piano bench as they should. They will need to start with music, from the first moment, such as simply being shown where "c" is, and playing it over and over as the teacher plays the Rondo from Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique (Try it! It works!). The focus will be on rhythm and duet playing, with the teacher carrying the interest and the student "riding along" on a repeating note, or a simple pattern. It will at least expand the life experience of children with very limited cognitive abilities, and may open the door for some children into a whole new world of enjoyment.
Very interesting, Rhonda. I must agree with you that you have to start with what you have, and branch out from there into areas that are rewarding for the student. Playing a single note rhythmically along with a much more sophisticated duet part is really just a lot like being percussion, yet with the harmonic element present too.
Good luck on your music studio, and keep us posted regarding your music method for children with autism.