A Lesson Plan for Children with Autism: I had several goals in mind for this first lesson:
- To identify all the parts of the clarinet, using their correct musical names i.e barrel, ligature, reed, etc.
- To demonstrate the proper way of putting the clarinet together.
- To have the student make a sound using just the mouthpiece and reed.
- To have the student demonstrate on her own the above activities
I decided not to consider Mano as a child with mild autism whose native language is not English. I proceeded as if Mano was a typical 13 year old who never played a musical instrument before. With private lessons, every student is different and as a lesson progresses, certain changes can be made; for instance the speed of instruction and not being concerned if all the goals were not met after the hour is up.
I found Mano to be highly motivated but a bit nervous. She mentioned several times that she never did this type of activity before, almost apologetically. I encouraged her with many smiles, eye contact, and instant approval.
Mano showed many of the mistakes that typical newcomers make; for instance, how to hold the different parts of clarinet and the idea of twisting and pushing when putting the parts together. Her hand position had to be corrected many times, a very usual problem.
Before we put the parts together, I drew a picture of all the parts on a pad and wrote out the name of each part and had Mano repeat the name of each part. She had some difficulty in her pronunciation with certain words like “ligature”. She was a bit confused when I mentioned the word “keys” of the clarinet thinking maybe of “keys” to a door.
When it was time to try to make a sound on just the mouthpiece I noticed that she had a tear drop lip; usually not a problem in playing the clarinet unlike the flute.
Mano was able to discern the parts of the mouth or “embouchure.” She knew the word teeth, lower lip, and tongue. Her first try in producing a sound followed what most children do; just blowing air without wrapping the lips around the mouthpiece. Her cheeks puffed out which is expected. When finally the embouchure was correctly formed in its rudimentary form, Mano was able to make a sound. This is quite an accomplishment. Many children get frustrated easily if they can’t make that first sound. Mano was persistent and tried continuously until a good sound was made.
Though I sensed that throughout the lesson Mano was very nervous and feared that should would not succeed, she indeed was very pleased with herself for her progress. Indeed, she wanted to go on even after an hour of lesson. I noticed that she talked a lot during the lesson about things that were not quite clear to me. Perhaps it was nerves, or she was trying very hard to communicate with me in English which is not an easy task for Mano.
Mano met my goals and I was pleased that only a few adjustments had to be made. One thing that I did notice was she was a bit awkward in trying to put the instrument together and had to be reminded several times the correct way; turn and push in, turn and pull out was a difficult task. I don’t think this is unusual since repeating instructions is part of teaching youngsters. I hope in the coming weeks, Mano will relax more. I do fear her first day in Band class because it is a much different environment than a one on one private lesson situation. If she is told what to expect and what may or may not happen, hopefully she will do fine.
My son who is on the Autism Spectrum has also benefited from music. He is one of the personal stories in a new book called “Music Helps Autism” on Amazon that was recently written by our first piano teacher. We discovered early that he had a special attraction to music. It was through music that he participated in a group and spoke his first words. Music was the language he understood. It has helped him regulate his behavior, helped with social skills, language skills and staying on task.
We have discovered he has exceptional pitch processing and memory skills. He is thirteen now and plays piano, violin and percussion in the band. Piano has taken him to our State AMTA competitions and in violin he participates in the local Youth Orchestra and has been to All-State for the past 2 years.
What is sad is in middle school I really had to fight to get him in band. Any kid with an IEP is persuaded to take a special study skills class instead of band or choir which is offered to every typical kid. They are told they can take band in 7th grade. By that time they are behind their peers in learning an instrument.
I have written to our superintendent but to no avail or even acknowledgement. We worked it into our IEP that our son would be monitored for the study skills during the day instead of taking the class. Most parents don’t want to rock the boat even if their kids would really like to take band.
I have noticed that band is a comfort zone for him….a place he feels safe. We are the only special-ed student in our middle school band because I advocated.
I am a piano teacher specializing in teaching Autistic children. I appreciate your comments very much. Nan DeStafney, RN, MSN Blues Angel Music, Pensacola, FL
You are doing some fantastic work!
Keep up your wonderful work with these angels.
Barry and Grace