Autistic Student

Caitlin Anselmo said: May 11, 2015
Caitlin AnselmoPiano
Nashville, TN
2 posts

Hello All,

I began lessons a few weeks ago with a piano student who was described to me by his mother as “high-functioning autistic.” After working with him for a few weeks, I find him to be not exactly high-functioning. He is quite bright, but very hyper-focused on certain distractions. He has real trouble relaxing his hand and arm muscles and is very impatient with both himself and me. I have worked with kids on the autism spectrum before and experienced these challenges, but never quite to this extent. I find that his mother, like many mothers of autistic students, really tries to jump in and discipline. She threatens him several times a lesson with taking him straight home and not finishing his lesson for the week. I feel she wants to be sure I know that she cares if he is coming across disrespectful. While I do appreciate this intention, I am finding it to be more of a disruption. I plan to talk to her and ask her to let me try to pull his focus back to me with non-verbals. Besides this, does anyone have any suggestions for working with Autistic children?




Connie Sunday said: May 11, 2015
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I’ve had good luck with students with high functioning autism, but the parents never really interfere much. One parent didn’t even tell me, though it was obvious. I had to give up on a few others with more serious problems. One could never even begin to put her hands on the keys, and bit me. Another two became increasingly violent, and I became afraid.

I guess my point is that it’s such a spectrum, as I ‘m sure you know. Trying to see things from the perspective of someone with problems processing takes a lot of intuitive skills and patience. And maybe training in the specific content area, which I don’t have. But the ones (I have two right now) who I’m able to work with successfully, it’s very rewarding. With those, patience, trying to see things from their perspective, and a different set of expectations are probably in order.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

Libby Felts said: May 12, 2015
Libby FeltsSAA Staff
Forum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
35 posts

Hi Caitlin,

Have you seen our article archives? We have a topic tag for autism:

These two articles are available to members and may be particularly helpful:

Hope this helps!

Rafael Videira said: Jun 12, 2015
Rafael Videira
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
West Haven, CT
24 posts

A graduate student at the University of New Mexico has recently finished her document entitled “Handbook; Suggestions on Teaching Violin to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder”. Her name is Andrea Rutan, and she’s a SAA member, so you can find her contact info in the directory.

Rafael Videira, DMA
Violist—Violin and Viola Instructor

Joseph Barker said: Jun 17, 2015
Joseph BarkerPiano, Guitar
2 posts

At my studio we have a number of students on the autism spectrum. They range from very high functioning to non verbal. The two things I’ve found to be really important to do are to manage expectations and set achievable short term goals. One recent student came for drum lessons and just wanted to be able to keep time with some of the music he liked. It took weeks, but when he got it, it was magic.

One specific thing to try—if everyone’s comfortable with it—is ask his mother to not be in the room for some or all of the lesson. Sometimes a parent’s presence can draw a student’s focus away or cause them to act out more than they otherwise would. Patience, like Connie said, is key.


Eric Davenport said: Jul 1, 2015
Eric Davenport
Suzuki Association Member
14 posts

“I feel she wants to be sure I know that she cares if he is coming across disrespectful. “

I think you can get control of this. Seriously, I don’t think its necessarily an autistic thing, this is a focus thing. The mom is only acting naturally. She is embarrassed by his behavior.

If mom is really acting out of good will, then I bet you guys could come up with a solution. Meaning, if she is not a problem parent (which I have had, jeepers!) than I think you are in good shape.

Heres what you could try:

I would let mom know that NOTHING HAPPENS IN VIOLIN PLAYING OUTSIDE ATTENTION, OUTSIDE CONCIOUSNESS. So FOCUS must be your first priority (thanks Nancy Lokken!). If he is not focused, he is not learning anything. I’ve seen so many students who were never trained tot do this and it is a mess. Look at Suzukis comments in the beginning of Book 3 (violin). Lessons might have to be shrunk to around 10 minutes (or less!) at first, until you can, to put it bluntly, train him.

I would make “assignments” at lessons very simple. Ex. Not moving feet, watching the fingers. Ignore his complaining, but DO NOT GIVE UP ON WHAT YOU ASK FOR. (Oops! you didn’t keep your wrist high, lets do it again.) Its amazing, you get a two for one. One you can get the focus going, and two you get good technique! Yeah!

Monitor his energy level, and quit before he is exhausted or that isn’t fair to him. Just let the mom understand that this is about focus and re-training him, so lessons may be short.

As Alice Joy says, you are paying for the program, not the lesson length! That gave me a new freedom to stop if the child was “done!”

Watch some of my youtubes I do this all the time AND IT WORKS!

Eric Davenport said: Jul 1, 2015
Eric Davenport
Suzuki Association Member
14 posts

Oh, one more thing. NEVER GIVE UP ON A CHILD.

(but you can give up on a parent! If they cant be bridled, forget about the child. Its not your fault. Bless and release! Haha!

Vickie said: Jul 2, 2015
1 posts

It is helpful to give autistic students movement breaks. Adult supported instruction for ten minutes followed by five minutes of movement to music and then repeat may be helpful.

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