In recognition of World Autism Awareness Day– April 2nd, I have 3 tips to share that I have found to be helpful when teaching piano students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or ASD characteristics:

  1. Sing a hello and goodbye song in support of their preference for structure. Lesson content is likely to change week to week as the student progresses in learning. So, open and close their lesson with something familiar. Regardless of how their day is progressing, greeting songs can help orient them and foster smoother transitions into and out of lessons. For inspiration, check out Hello Everybody by Mary Altom, MT-BC, Time to Sing Hello and Until Next Time both by Rachel Rambach, MM, MT-BC.
  2. Sing a key phrase to stop a student’s compulsive or repetitive behavior and regain their focus. Personally, I sing the following melody a cappella and sign “3, 2, 1…stop” while singing the corresponding words. While singing, “hands in your lap,” I model the expected behavior.Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 12.35.49 AM
  3. Utilize a sticker chart to encourage appropriate behavior. Provide a visual representation of an incentive such as blowing bubbles, a movement song, free play on the piano, 2 minutes to play an iPad game, etc. As the student completes required tasks, reward them with stickers. When necessary, visually and/or verbally remind the student of what they’re working towards. Once they have earned a set number of stickers– such as 3 or 5, reward them with the expected incentive. Note that the number of times that the student works toward their incentive is individual to each student and the length of their lesson time.

As each student is unique, it is important to recognize that when used, these approaches must be adapted to best meet each student’s needs. 

To learn more about autism, visit Autism Speaks and Autism Society.