Continued from: A Lesson Plan for Children with Autism
This lesson took place during the day on Sunday downstairs in the laundry room. I was going to move the lesson to the “warm” dining room, but Mano had already put together the clarinet by herself and seemed eager to play.
She is progressing quite well through her Band Method book. Her Band class continues to work on the first five notes but is now concentrating on rhythm. The idea of teaching time, which is so intangible and therefore a challenge to teach, includes explaining that certain notes are longer in duration than others according to the way they look. For instance, notes that have black note heads are shorter in duration than notes that do not have black note heads (”white” heads). As I was trying various ways to explain this concept, Mano came up with the most imaginative way of viewing these notes. The “black” notes reminded Mano of black chocolate and the “white” notes were of course white chocolate. So instead of using the word quarter and half note, I joined in with this game of black and white chocolate notes.
Mano seemed to be making progress for someone of her age and musical background. She does have the habit of apologizing to me when she plays something incorrectly. I of course reassure her that she is doing great and apologies are not necessary. Perhaps my playing alongside of her might be a bit intimating. This was the best 20 minute lesson we have had hitherto.
This experience has had a profound effect on me personally. I am struggling with my identity; which part of me should be present at these lessons? I am Mano’s father, I am Professor of Music, I am a music educator, and I am a professional clarinetist who has been taught throughout my life that perfection is what all musicians should strive for. Being her father is the important variable as opposed to teaching the neighbor’s child for instance. I am emotionally connected to Mano and know intimately her daily challenges. For each music challenge I give her, I pray that she can achieve it. Though I hope all my students succeed, it is a different feeling and process with Mano. I share her successes (and failures) more deeply than with my other students.
As a person who has had perfection beat into him during my formative years, I find myself learning to put that aside. It’s not that I have lower expectations working with Mano; but squeezing Mano into a prescribed program or pedagogical exercise is the wrong approach. Fitting the approach to Mano’s needs is the key. And once you know that, you are able to be as an effective teacher as you are with students who do not have special needs. Baby steps and not large sprints are the order of the day. A small success instead of a huge celebration is the mindset; they can be as celebratory and meaningful. Teach one small process, repeat it often, teach it again and if it’s learned move with caution and slowly to the next activity. Repeat as often and as needed. Patience, patience, patience! The rewards are incredible.