Deciding whether or not to include children with autism in your studio is a big decision to make. The five points below will give you a glimpse of what things might look like. It is a great idea to go through them and decide what you need to focus on and what you need to study further before you embark on this fulfilling journey.
1. The word “autistic” does not define who your student is, it is only a term
Do not set up expectations that are too low or too high! You don’t know your student’s capabilities or the absence of them.
2. Communication might be difficult
Your student may have difficulties in expressing his/ her feelings, whether they are confused, frustrated, tired, hungry… Reading body language and any other signs that indicate that something is not quite right is crucial.
3. Predictability and routine are important
Your student will crave predictability and routine, she/he needs to know what they are going to do during the lesson and how. It will make the lessons much more productive for both of you if you do the following:
Create a lesson plan, especially during the first few months, until your student understands your style and the way you teach.
Share your plan at the beginning of each lesson and explain how things are going to be done.
Keep doing this until your student has memorized your style and is able to predict how the lesson is going to go. If for any reason you decide to stray from the typical lesson plan on a particular day, discuss it at the beginning.
4. Meltdowns and tantrums are a possibility
On the outside, tantrums and meltdowns look very similar. The child seems to be acting out and behaving in an unacceptable way. However, there is a big difference between the two and it’s really important to differentiate them.
Given the time limitation of the session and its relatively high cost, such episodes can be stressful for the parent, the teacher as well as the child.
I wrote a whole blog post about how to deal with these episodes HERE. You might want to give it a look.
5. You will most probably face some type of sensory issues
Sounds, lights, touches, smells and the total environment feels different to your student. The fluorescent light above your piano that you hardly notice might be a problem and seem too bright, or even flicker. The sound of the cars coming from the window may be overpowering the sound of the piano. Anything around you that you perceive as normal might be the cause of sensory overload. Your perfume may even be too strong.
Make sure to adjust your studio:
If you use a step under the students’ feet, place a mat underneath it.
Make sure that the piano is facing a blank wall.
Check your lighting to avoid bright spotlights directly above the piano.
Distractions coming from the street are very confusing, keep your windows shut if you are on a busy street.
Teaching children with Autism has its unique challenges. However, it makes my day fulfilling. I know my work is making a positive impact, helping each individual grow and gain skills. Trust yourself, you can do it too!