Autistic students

Michael Beechey

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I have had a few young students "on the spectrum" (of autism). Generally they are very creative but refuse traditional teaching styles, reading/rudiments etc. I kept it simple, but the anxiety and trigger of failure was still there if they felt they "couldn't do it"...even though 5 minutes later they clearly could. They seem to enjoy the moment but reject the idea of practicing etc.

I was fighting a losing battle, so I decided to embrace the moment. My own studies were 50 yrs ago, traditional teaching style, no interest on the part of the teacher as to what my interests were. No understanding of learning styles, typical of most teachers at the time in school.

We switched to having fun once a week when the student was with me. I do remember drumming was fun as a teen, until much later I found out my time and metre sucked and doomed myself to a lifetime of fighting with gap clicks and losing gigs. I use two facing kits at 45 angle, with dual monitors.... we started playing with videos, alternating between student choice and my choice. Some VERY weird videos on his part, (mario bros soundtrack?/!!) but at least he was enjoying the time together. I always felt frustrated because he was so creative, but so unwiling to develop the skills to advance.

what are your experiences? thanks in advance!
 

Pat A Flafla

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I've always enjoyed the challenge and the change of pace. Every spectrum kid is different. I've found some are able to handle physical nuance while others aren't. There are certain mechanical things I've had to just let go. One guy got used to Wednesdays at 4:30. He didn't gripe if the schedule changed, but the lessons were less productive at other times so I always set his lesson first: Wed at 4:30. Another guy looked at me like I was an idiot when I joked in a way that other students enjoyed, so lessons with him were strictly business. Another guy I was pretty sure was Asperger's seemed like he had been coached on appropriate professional interactions. (He also has perfect pitch.) He would pass me, than remember that he was supposed to say, "Good morning, sir," and shake my hand. Another Asperger's guy had talent but needed a gentle hand helping him strategically get past crippling perfectionism. Similarly, another student requires very careful management of repetitions because if he has too many bad reps he gets very angry with himself and things can unravel quickly, but he has this odd falling-downhill momentum to things, and even though I can't do detail work with him like othe students, he feels absolutely no performance pressure in audition situations and places higher.

I think it's loads of fun to find out what makes these individuals tick and work within their unusual set of strengths and weaknesses to cultivate success and meaningful experiences for them. I had one kid who wound up just loving ragtime xylophone, so we shoved out lesson focus that direction and he got some state level first divisions that way.

I love those guys! (They've all been guys.) Granted, all my spectrum students have been high functioning.
 

notINtheband

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It’s amazing that this topic popped up today.
I had one student on the spectrum 8 years ago, and her mother reached out to me yesterday, for the first time in 8 years, to thank me for working with her daughter.
She heaped praise on me that I don’t feel I deserved, because I was never able to get any progress from my student (at least measurable in the way I do with other students).
While my student opened up a bit and got more comfortable as we went along, she could never replicate anything she learned in any prior lesson.
10-15 lessons in she still could not or maybe would not play even a paradiddle that she had played at the end of the previous lesson. Mostly I just remember us sitting across from one another at a snare drum talking and having her replicate the simple rudiments I would play out for her slowly while counting or saying “right-left-left,..”.
Still her mother seemed thrilled at the end of every lesson and her and my student always asked to come back.
In the end it was a rewarding experience.
I just had to learn not to try and measure progress, but teach in the moment and leave the lack of results as I usually measured them, out of the formula.
 

swarfrat

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I'd say be ready with the hearing protection. Sensory Processing Disorder often accompanies it, and even if not, just the increased stimulation levels from the sound levels can increase the sensitivity to other triggers.
Don't mean to be a downer, today's just been a rough day with ours.
 

Michael Beechey

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my first encounter was a student who "had some issues" according to the parent.. so we are in the lesson and he starts lying on the floor, back against the wall and shaking...scared the hell out of me, I thought he was having a seizure. I now know that this is the behavior of an infant seeking solid and familiar limits at wall of crib, in times of stress. Really shook me.
 

Michael Beechey

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I don't know where you got that idea, but it couldn't have more than two degrees of separation from someone's anus.
"Use a Crib. While a crib might feel like a cage for us, a toddler and young child actually feel safest in a crib. The crib walls provide physically boundaries that tell the child they are in a safe and in secure place. Having these physical boundaries is a strong reminder to your child to stay in his bed. I recommend all toddlers stay in cribs until at least 3 years of age. With an autistic child, I recommend staying in the crib as long as you can. As your child develops, he will begin to display improved impulse control and moving out of the crib is an option. At this point many children still need strong physical boundaries to feel safe in bed. I recommend either a bed net or a bed railing. Both of these barriers allow the child to get up and leave if they need to while providing clear, touchable boundaries for the child. "
 

melatony

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'Autistic students', I believe that's what my teacher thought of me taking lessons when I was younger...
 

GiveMeYourSmallestSticks!

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High school visual art teacher here. I've taught many students on the spectrum over my career, and worked in the special education department periodically as well. I won't get into any specific cases, other than to say that "if you've taught a student with autism, then you know one student with autism". Meaning the range of differences in which autism is manifested along the spectrum is wide and deep. Some of my very strongest art students have been autistic, as well as some of my weakest, with very few falling in the middle. I will agree with what was said earlier about having to perhaps abandon your expectations or original intentions at times, and realize that what the student needs and what/how you want to teach them are two very different things.
 


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