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#2292805 - 06/21/14 12:17 AM Teaching special needs kids
Jennysb Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/15/14
Posts: 2
Loc: Michigan, U.S.A
What are some good technics or resources for teaching children with learning and/or physical disabilities, including dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, downs syndrome, autism? Has anybody had any experience or success in this field?
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JenSue

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#2292809 - 06/21/14 12:43 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
I can't really say anything about teaching piano to people with learning disorders or intellectual disability because ... IANAPT (short for "I am not a piano teacher" ... I'm not the first one to use it, but I think we should officially incorporate it into PW-speak wink ).

So, IANAPT. But I will tell you something I've learned through personal experience as a physically disabled (piano) student with epilepsy: it's all about the attitude.

A long time ago, in response to someone who asked how to teach a girl with cerebral palsy (hi!), I wrote the following:

Originally Posted By: Saranoya
My advice to people asking questions about how to teach those with any kind of disability is always going to be the same: never assume any of your students' limitations are an insurmountable hurdle, unless it's clear that the student has no interest in surmounting it.

Teach her the same way you would teach anyone else. Do this even if the parents are worried that you might not be able to.

You should assume that nothing is impossible. If it *is*, in fact, impossible, the girl may not tell you, but you will know. A student who is physically or intellectually incapable of doing something looks very different from one who can't do it because (s)he isn't trying, or not trying correctly.


A little less of a long time ago, I thanked my piano teacher in a Christmas card because she never asks: "Can this be done?". She always asks: "How will we do it?"

Of course, although you should keep your expectations as high as possible, you should also feel free to adjust them according to what the student actually brings to the lesson. It's no use expecting someone to go to conservatory if they can't learn to play Mary Had a Little Lamb in two months. That is of course a somewhat extreme (and perhaps unrealistic) example, but I hope you get my drift. It's also not something that's unique to students with disabilities, though.

For every student, the question should be: what does this person need, right here, right now, with me in this studio, in order to learn something useful? We can all try to come up with rules about what (not) to do, but I'm opposed to "recipes". Recipes give the illusion that labeling someone, and then applying the "correct" recipe for that label, will make the problems "go away". It won't. As a teacher, and particularly as one who teaches in a one-on-one situation, it is your duty to think beyond the recipes ... to be creative ... to respect each of your students for what he or she brings to the table, and to devise strategies that will help you work with or around the lesser-developed areas.

It can help, of course, to talk to people who already know the child: parents, other teachers, perhaps even medical or paramedical professionals if necessary. But don't take anything anyone else says for granted. As you no doubt know, it is not rare for parents to either under- or over-estimate what their child can do, whether that child is disabled or not. And other professionals may not know what will and what won't be a problem, in the specific context of learning to play the piano. So trust your own judgement above all else ... but start with the assumption that the sky is the limit.

Beyond that, come back here whenever you are having a specific issue with a specific child in a specific situation. Then and only then should you talk about it with like-minded professionals, using them as a resource to help you find your own solutions (not theirs!) to your own problems (not theirs!). Then and only then should you start reading every quality resource you can find on the specific issue you are dealing with. Because, for teachers and other professionals who are routinely confronted with ill-structured problems (putting on my psychologist hat here, for a second), there really is no better way to learn than through reflection-on-action and reflection-in-action. Your "quest for knowledge" has to be prompted by specific experiences. If it is not, you will learn a whole bunch of "best practices" and "theoretical concepts", and that may be interesting in its own right. But they are unlikely to truly become integrated into your teaching repertoire, unless you also feel a specific need to start using them in a given situation.

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#2292835 - 06/21/14 03:11 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1368
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
Bravo, Saranoya. I could not have said things nearly so well. Jenny, welcome to PianoWorld. Some piano teachers may shy away from the students who seem to come "from the margins," so to speak. But with a good attitude, you will find your own way as their teacher. Every so-called special need is different, and every student is different. But the piano studio can be a wonderful private lab for experimenting and cultivating a teaching/learning relationship. I think you will just adapt whatever teaching materials you normally employ.

I have never sought out the special needs community of piano students, but they deserve music in their lives as much as anyone else. I have taught over the years one teen student with mild cerebral palsy (she had spatial challenges, and didn't always understand left from right!) and one who had Asberger's coupled with ADD/HD. I also taught an adult beginner who was profoundly deaf, and a child who was losing her hearing. The Asberger's teen was the most challenging and exhausting to teach. Many weeks I felt like a failure, though his mom was always very supportive of my work with her son.

You might give some thought to charging extra for someone in such a category, though I never did. Such a student takes more effort, and the parents will know you are a special teacher for being willing to try lessons with their child.


Edited by Peter K. Mose (06/21/14 03:14 AM)

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#2293155 - 06/21/14 08:03 PM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1055
Loc: California, USA
I've taught a couple of students with autism. When I started with the first student, I did some reading and listened to some different opinions. However I've found that each student is so individual it didn't really help much.

The one thing that has been consistently true in my teaching is that these students need consistency in routines. For example I like to mix up the order I do things in lessons, and for most of my students this is a great thing as it allows us to focus on different things each lesson. But for my autistic students it's not a good idea. Also I recently moved teaching locations, and that was a major deal. I'm not sure why.

Another note: students with certain learning disabilities can sometimes say very inappropriate things. Again I'm not sure why, but an autistic student could walk into lessons and say something like, "That shirt (you're wearing) is really ugly. I thought you should know that just in case you didn't know that." In my experience the intention was NOT to be mean to their piano teacher. They - I think - don't understand their comment can be insulting.

You ask about success in this field. My students with autism have made steady.progress in their music learning. Just like any other students they have strong points and weak points. There are areas where learning takes longer. But I like to remind myself that it's a learning disability, not an accomplishment disability.

One final thought: the parents might have a wide spectrum of goals for enrolling their autistic child in piano lessons. The social interaction might be on the list. Also the structured learning framework. They might or might not (in my experience) have very ambitious goals for their child's music. It might also be important to the parent that they are giving their child the "normal" childhood learning experiences.
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#2293157 - 06/21/14 08:06 PM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Peter K. Mose]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1055
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
You might give some thought to charging extra for someone in such a category, though I never did. Such a student takes more effort, and the parents will know you are a special teacher for being willing to try lessons with their child.

Interesting thought, and I think a teacher has the right to charge more when the teaching is going to require more work and effort. However I've always charged the same.
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Pianist and Piano Teacher

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#2293222 - 06/21/14 11:13 PM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: musicpassion]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1368
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
An autistic student could walk into lessons and say something like, "That shirt (you're wearing) is really ugly. I thought you should know that just in case you didn't know that." In my experience the intention was NOT to be mean to their piano teacher.


Was the shirt paisley? Or maybe lime green? Do you still wear it?

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#2293248 - 06/22/14 12:59 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Peter K. Mose]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1055
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
An autistic student could walk into lessons and say something like, "That shirt (you're wearing) is really ugly. I thought you should know that just in case you didn't know that." In my experience the intention was NOT to be mean to their piano teacher.


Was the shirt paisley? Or maybe lime green? Do you still wear it?

It's kind of a forest green. Yes, I still wear it. Of course maybe all my students are thinking the same thing.....
_________________________
Pianist and Piano Teacher

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#2293321 - 06/22/14 08:26 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
malkin Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2626
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
The comment about your shirt falls under this part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder:

Deficits in using communication for social purposes, such as greeting and sharing information, in a manner that is appropriate for the social context.
_________________________
A good student is one who makes the teacher feel like a good teacher.

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#2293345 - 06/22/14 09:54 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Peter K. Mose]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
You might give some thought to charging extra for someone in such a category, though I never did. Such a student takes more effort, and the parents will know you are a special teacher for being willing to try lessons with their child.


I understand the logic behind this. It's true: people with disabilities do require more effort from others than those without. I'll be the last person ever to deny that. But I still think this is a dangerous position to take.

Suppose you were to implement a "multiple-tier" payment structure, with one tier specifically reserved for students with disabilities. Where would you draw the line? Would you only charge more if a prospective student (and/or their parent) came to you and identified as having a disability up-front? If not, how would you broach the subject with people who, for one reason or another, didn't tell you spontaneously? (You may balk at this, but I think there are legitimate reasons for people to choose not to spontaneously disclose that kind of information, even if they know and acknowledge what is going on).

I suppose you could choose to only up your rates for "self-identified" people with disabilities (and for those who, due to the nature of their misfortune, are unable to hide it). But then, the ones who did bring it up spontaneously would essentially be punished for the heinous crime of trying to make your job ever so slightly easier. Alternatively, you could just up your rates whenever you felt like you had "a difficult case" on your hands, and then not explicitly say you charge more for teaching someone with a disability. That last one is ethically suspect for various obvious reasons. But even if you could find some way around the disclosure issue, there are still problems with the idea of differential pricing based on disability.

I realize that where you teach, Peter, piano lessons are crazy expensive no matter what. So once a person has made the choice of paying for them, a small premium for "special needs" may not make that much of a difference. Still, if you charged different rates based on disability or lack thereof, you would be upping the threshold for people with disabilities ever so slightly, and it's not like piano lessons are the only thing in life that might cost them more because of their disability. Plus, if you draw this line to its logical conclusion, you might also end up charging extremely gifted students less, because they take less effort to teach.

Don't laugh. In practice, I suspect many teachers already implicitly do this: when the student is good at playing the piano, extremely motivated, and ambitious, perhaps they're given longer lessons at a flat rate, or "freebies" when the need arises (for instance, in preparation for a competition). By the same logic, you could tell someone with a disability (explicitly identified or not) that coming to class twice a month will suffice, while charging that person the same monthly amount as everyone else.

Needless to say, I'm opposed to that on general principle. But I also realize that many teachers already have a system in place that would allow them to do something like this if they so chose: a pricing structure that includes, say, 1-hour lessons for $x, and half-hour lessons for $x-y, where y is less than half of x. I suppose that if you wanted to charge disabled students more, you could always tell them to take the shorter, more expensive lessons. For many students with a disability, shorter lessons may actually be pedagogically justifiable. The key, however, is to leave both options open to all comers, and to let the students/parents pick. You can always nudge them in a certain direction, but ultimately, it has to be up to them.

If it's not up to them, then effectively what you are doing is discriminating based on (dis)ability: making the "rich" (highly able, motivated) richer, and the "poor" (disabled, PITA) poorer.

ETA:

I can envision some teachers here making the argument that it is "normal" for the best students to be positively discriminated against, and for the worst students to be negatively discriminated against. To those who were thinking something along those lines as they read my post:

Most people at both ends of the spectrum are there through no fault of their own. Qualities such as intelligence, manual dexterity, musical ability, ... are, at their core, innate traits. Yes, they can be influenced. Yes, they can be trained. Yes, they can definitely be improved upon, and hard (smart) work will help with that. But the baseline from which most beginners start, and the circumstances that allow some of them to maximize their talents but others not, are there mostly by happenstance. A random six-year-old, for instance, does not *choose* to grow up (or not) in a family where regular exposure to many different kinds of music is just a matter of course. It makes no sense, to me, to widen the gap just because it's easier that way.

The problem with that argument is also that not all students with a disability will be among "the worst", even if they do take more effort. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, check out this TED talk.


Edited by Saranoya (06/22/14 12:43 PM)

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#2293633 - 06/22/14 11:31 PM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1368
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
What I proposed is discriminatory. No way around it. I thank Saranoya for shining a light on my fuzzy thinking. Or my flexible ethics.

The broader issue remains. Should a teacher charge more for a self-identified more challenging student? I don't know. What do other colleagues think?

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#2293648 - 06/23/14 12:31 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11773
Loc: Canada
What I think is that in similar professions, when people specialize, then they are specialists, with commensurate training, and specialists tend to charge more for that reason. Someone actually specializing in teaching piano to various disabilities would need dual expertise, both in teaching music, and in disability training.

Another reality is that entrepreneurs commonly will charge more for unpleasant work that they don't want to take on, called "pricing yourself out of the market" that you don't want.

A policy of charging more for self-identified challenging students would cause people to hide disabilities. That makes teaching harder.

Btw, I've had the impression that students with ability who end up on a career path often end up paying more. That's sort of the opposite idea, isn't it?

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#2293650 - 06/23/14 12:38 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
SoundThumb Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/28/10
Posts: 344
Loc: San Diego, CA
Seems like there need be no ethical dilemma here. The conversation could go something like this.

I charge $xx/hr for lessons. This includes 5-10 min outside of the lesson for my preparation. It seems like your son/daughter would benefit from some additional preparation time on my part due to ...(could be anything, including some disability). If you would like me to try this, we could increase the rate to $yy/hr and I would increase my pre lesson preparation time to 15-20 min/week. Perhaps we try this for a couple of months and see if it yields positive results. We could then decide to continue or return to the current rate and preparation time.

Of course this assumes that the teacher can quantify their current amount of preparation time and is willing to commit to the specified increase. But in the end it seems like a fair and transparent way to do business.

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#2293669 - 06/23/14 01:55 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: keystring]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: keystring
What I think is that in similar professions, when people specialize, then they are specialists, with commensurate training, and specialists tend to charge more for that reason. Someone actually specializing in teaching piano to various disabilities would need dual expertise, both in teaching music, and in disability training.


Right. Except that in education, the prevailing trend is away from separate tracks for students with disabilities, and towards maximum inclusion. That means teacher training needs to change: *all* teachers should be able to deal with "diversity", whatever that means. It might mean teaching children whose native language isn't the teaching language. It might mean coming up with new ways of explaining how to read music for a student who, for one reason or another, can't make sense of the grand staff. It might mean re-structuring lessons for autistic children, or learning to deal with behavioral problems.

To me, that's an issue of social justice. These children, when they are adults, are supposed to end up in "regular" society. I mean, if their disability is "bad enough" (for whatever is your definition of "bad enough"), of course you can keep them out of the public eye by maintaining separate institutions for them. That's what we've collectively been doing for centuries. I have a great-aunt who is not so different from me (wheelchair user, epileptic), except that she's been living in an institution for fifty years. Assuming we are past that (and I do hope we are!), it is in disabled children's interest to have been included from the get-go, so that *other* people don't run away screaming (or cower in fear) when confronted with a disabled grown-up who is (obviously) different from them. This is not a mere theoretical point, to me. There are teachers out there who are not willing to teach me because I'm an epileptic. And while I understand the impulse, I just don't think it's right.

Originally Posted By: keystring
A policy of charging more for self-identified challenging students would cause people to hide disabilities. That makes teaching harder.


Bingo!

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#2293677 - 06/23/14 02:06 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: SoundThumb]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: SoundThumb
I charge $xx/hr for lessons. This includes 5-10 min outside of the lesson for my preparation. It seems like your son/daughter would benefit from some additional preparation time on my part due to ...(could be anything, including some disability).


That does avoid most of the sticky issues in terms of ethics. But I think Peter was saying that most students with disabilities are more challenging not because they require that much more preparation time, but because lessons with them are just more taxing. Having once been an intern at a school for children with autism and/or intellectual disability, I can imagine what he's talking about.

So if you have a student where you, yourself, perceive a need to up your rate because the teaching is exhausting to a degree that isn't "normal", you still run the risk of encountering a parent who says, either a) there is nothing wrong with my child or b) I'm not willing to pay more. In both cases, you end up back where you started: with an exhausting student, for whom you feel neither adequately prepared nor adequately compensated.

The key is in professional development. And professional development, in this case, has to take the form of teaching (a) student(s) with special needs, and reflecting on your practice with like-minded professionals as you are doing it. There is no other way that will work. And like I said, to me it is an issue of social justice. But of course, I'm hardly objective.

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#2293681 - 06/23/14 02:14 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: malkin]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1055
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: malkin
The comment about your shirt falls under this part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder:

Deficits in using communication for social purposes, such as greeting and sharing information, in a manner that is appropriate for the social context.

Is that a quote from a professional document? Anyway, yes that sounds about right.
_________________________
Pianist and Piano Teacher

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#2293688 - 06/23/14 02:27 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Peter K. Mose]
musicpassion Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 1055
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
What I proposed is discriminatory. No way around it. I thank Saranoya for shining a light on my fuzzy thinking. Or my flexible ethics.

The broader issue remains. Should a teacher charge more for a self-identified more challenging student? I don't know. What do other colleagues think?


I don't think someone should charge different rates for the exact same thing. That wasn't how I imagined the process working, however. I have different lesson time lengths available, and I have a strong input in which students are taking longer or shorter lesson. I do leave the final decision to the parents, however, as only they know their financial situation. Obviously different tuition rates are required for different length lessons.

If you have a student who is going to require extra time to address specific learning concerns then I was thinking you would put that time on your schedule and charge accordingly. In my experience, teaching students with autism doesn't require more time outside of lessons. But other teachers might have different experiences.

I don't think a teacher should charge more just because of how difficult it feels (or is). You can always choose not to take a student. I think you should charge more for the longer lesson times if that is what you are doing.
_________________________
Pianist and Piano Teacher

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#2293768 - 06/23/14 08:33 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: musicpassion]
malkin Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2626
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
Originally Posted By: malkin
The comment about your shirt falls under this part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder:

Deficits in using communication for social purposes, such as greeting and sharing information, in a manner that is appropriate for the social context.

Is that a quote from a professional document? Anyway, yes that sounds about right.


Yep.
It is from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). This massive document defines what is and isn't a psych. condition and gives diagnostic criteria for each one.
_________________________
A good student is one who makes the teacher feel like a good teacher.

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#2293792 - 06/23/14 09:35 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: musicpassion]
malkin Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2626
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
Originally Posted By: musicpassion
Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
What I proposed is discriminatory. No way around it. I thank Saranoya for shining a light on my fuzzy thinking. Or my flexible ethics.

The broader issue remains. Should a teacher charge more for a self-identified more challenging student? I don't know. What do other colleagues think?


I don't think someone should charge different rates for the exact same thing. That wasn't how I imagined the process working, however. I have different lesson time lengths available, and I have a strong input in which students are taking longer or shorter lesson. I do leave the final decision to the parents, however, as only they know their financial situation. Obviously different tuition rates are required for different length lessons.

If you have a student who is going to require extra time to address specific learning concerns then I was thinking you would put that time on your schedule and charge accordingly. In my experience, teaching students with autism doesn't require more time outside of lessons. But other teachers might have different experiences.

I don't think a teacher should charge more just because of how difficult it feels (or is). You can always choose not to take a student. I think you should charge more for the longer lesson times if that is what you are doing.



If an instructor finds that a lesson is difficult or exhausting or taxing, I think that perhaps instructor could have benefitted from more prep time! (Or at least some recovery time after the lesson!)

I do not think it is an ethical lapse to suggest charging more for a difficult student. In US public schools, a kid with special needs may receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy services as well as specialized instruction from specially trained teachers in addition to regular ed services. All of these professionals all get paid, and so that kid's education costs more than the kid who is only served by a regular ed teacher. As a society we have decided to bear the cost of this education together rather than expect parents to bear the cost.

There are other areas where we do not share the cost as a society. If I wear an unusual pants size, I am responsible personally for the additional cost of having my pants tailored. The same is true for most personal and domestic needs and for many medical needs.

In some cases, society offers some level of service which individuals may find inadequate. In my neighborhood, the city provides some care for the trees lining the street, which means that once every 5 years or so, a crew will come around and trim the trees. I prefer to have my tree trimmed more frequently than that, so I pay someone to do it.

Well, that's a bit of a rant, but my point is that it may be an unrealistic burden for an individual piano teacher to absorb the cost of a difficult or complicated student.

Of course it is discriminatory, but it is no more negative or unethical than for a tailor to charge for alterations.
_________________________
A good student is one who makes the teacher feel like a good teacher.

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#2293967 - 06/23/14 04:55 PM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
Candywoman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 852
Saranoya
You make some excellent points, and have thought about discrimination in education a lot. But I tend to agree with malkin. Somewhere, there has to be more money for the piano teacher. This could mean a public campaign to help fund special needs students. You can't expect every piano teacher to volunteer for professional development opportunities, particularly if they already face many financial challenges. Also, the piano teacher herself could experience deficits in energy or temperament which need to be recognized.

I once taught an autistic boy who had had five years or so prior instruction and who took three times the energy of other pupils. After eight weeks, I experienced a small token of gratitude from the student, who remembered and repeated my name.

Musically, his playing was like listening to bricks drop on concrete. He could not remember to shape phrases or use dynamics, and played at one volume: loud. His parents needed to find somebody closer (they lived across town) and I was at peace with them moving on.

Saranoya, in all honesty, would you have kept teaching him had they lived in your neighborhood?

As people we are equal in human dignity, but our opportunities will never be equal. That's just impossible.

I can see the sense of making all sidewalk corners wheelchair accessible. But if a woman weighed 1000 pounds and demanded that all sidewalks, airplane seats and washroom stalls be widened to accommodate her, we're heading into fantasyland.


Edited by Candywoman (06/23/14 04:57 PM)

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#2294135 - 06/24/14 12:55 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Candywoman]
Saranoya Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 632
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted By: Candywoman
Somewhere, there has to be more money for the piano teacher. This could mean a public campaign to help fund special needs students.


I suppose part of the divide between you and me comes from the fact that I live in a country where music lessons are publicly funded anyway. I mean, we do pay enrollment fees for music school, but that's a token amount compared to what the instruction actually costs. Mechanisms to combat inequality in a financial sense are already built into the system: children of unemployed parents, unemployed adults, disabled people and *their* children, political refugees, "group home" kids, and even children from large families (more than two siblings taking lessons), pay less than others. So from where I'm sitting, it's even more of an issue than from where you are sitting: these schools are paid for with public funds, and the inclusion of disabled students in mainstream public education is a political priority around here (but the reality currently doesn't live up to it).

Do I personally think that all people with disabilities should have equal opportunities in education (music or otherwise), no matter where they happen to have been born? Of course I do. Do I think that's a goal that will be reached within my lifetime? Not really. There are many countries around the world that have bigger fish to fry. Yours may well be one of them.

So yes, I agree that "somewhere", there needs to be more money. That's what happens here, with extra government funding for inclusive education. In places where music education isn't publicly funded in the first place, I suppose there's no way to avoid having the parents (or the disabled person him/herself) bear the surplus. I still think that's a shame, but I acknowledge the fact that supporting special needs through public funding is something not all societies choose to do, and specifically in the case of music lessons, I can sort of see why they might not.

I don't think, however, that even when a society (or an individual teacher) chooses to endorse music education for people with special needs, "more money" is the be-all and end-all of good support. Which brings me to your next point.

Originally Posted By: Candywoman
You can't expect every piano teacher to volunteer for professional development opportunities, particularly if they already face many financial challenges. Also, the piano teacher herself could experience deficits in energy or temperament which need to be recognized.


Deficits in experience, energy and temperament are exactly the sort of issues that could be tackled by the kind of professional development I am thinking of: regular, structured conversations between like-minded professionals, with the explicit goal of finding solutions to specific practical problems, in order to make the teaching easier and more effective for all involved. This does not have to cost much. It could be organized in a place not that different from the very medium we are using to communicate right now -- except that it needs to be focused specifically on teaching strategies (and someone should be there to keep the conversation on track) if it is to be truly effective.

Originally Posted By: Candywoman
Saranoya, in all honesty, would you have kept teaching him had they lived in your neighborhood?


In all honesty, IANAPT, so I don't know. But if I felt like the boy was getting something out of it (either through his own small tokens of gratitude, or because his parents told me so), then probably I would. That's my idealism talking. I *want* there to be teachers who will give children like that boy a chance. The best way to ensure that is to be one myself.

Originally Posted By: Candywoman
I can see the sense of making all sidewalk corners wheelchair accessible.


The fact of the matter is that (a) not all sidewalk corners are wheelchair accessible (not by a long shot), and (b) even if we lived in a world where everything was physically accessible, that would be a very good start, but it wouldn't be enough. There are many other practical and attitudinal problems that need to be solved if (and I do mean *if*) we want to live in a world where disability is a non-factor in determining access to and benefit from appropriate learning experiences.

Originally Posted By: Candywoman
But if a woman weighed 1000 pounds and demanded that all sidewalks, airplane seats and washroom stalls be widened to accommodate her, we're heading into fantasyland.


This raises a different question. How exactly do we define disability? Is obesity different from, say, cerebral palsy, because its sufferers brought their condition on themselves? Did they, in fact, bring it on themselves? And if they did, do only people who are disabled "through no fault of their own" deserve accommodations to be made for them? If so, what about the wheelchair user who became paralyzed by getting behind the wheel drunk and smacking into a tree? Are the curb cuts there for everyone except that person? Should he or she be excluded from the rights covered in legislation like the ADA? If you think the answer to that question might be yes, consider this: the ADA and similar laws are part of what makes it possible for many people with disabilities, regardless of what caused them, to be productive members of society. If those who "brought their disability on themselves" were excluded, would they become less or more of a burden on public resources?

I'm sure that particular debate doesn't really belong here, but I just wanted to say: it may be more complicated than we tend to think.

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#2294157 - 06/24/14 02:38 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5528
Loc: Orange County, CA
I do not discriminate against students with disabilities, and I have taught a few students who were autistic. Two of them were mild, so their lessons went normally without much modification on my part.

I had a third student who was more challenging, and he also had impaired fine-motor skills to make things more complicated. He liked music, and I enjoyed working with him. But his parents ultimately pulled the plug on his piano lessons because he's not making much progress. He has a ridiculously brilliant younger brother who's really good at piano, so the parents just poured all of their time and energy that direction.

It is actually more rewarding to teach these students with challenges. It certainly beats the "expensive babysitting" jobs I have, week after week, with spoiled, rich kids who were forced to take piano lessons.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2294285 - 06/24/14 10:56 AM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Saranoya]
Rebecca Piano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/02/13
Posts: 55
Loc: Sydney, Australia
Jennysb, you ask a big question - with so many learning disorders, and seem to want a generalist answer. In short, I'd say the same as Saranoya - do your research and find out what makes them tick. Some dyslexics students read better through a screen than the printed page, others need to wear tinted glasses and some prefer to have things printed on blue paper (there are so many different kinds of dyslexia, so your best bet is to adjust according to the students' needs).

ADHD (incidentally ADD no longer exists in the current DSM)also depends on the student - people seem to think that it always involves a talkative, hyperactive child who bounces around the room, but it really is more about the way that child (or adult) might process things. In my experience, students with ADHD respond well to routine - I find that having a checklist of activities in the lesson works. Another thing that works is breaking up the lesson and involving the student with variety of activities so that they don't need to sit still for the whole time.

The thing is, I have found that these tried and tested techniques are not exclusive or helpful with students who might have learning disorders - they work really well with students who don't have such disorders - so it goes to show, we are teaching individuals with different needs!
_________________________
Independent Piano and Music Teacher
University Undergraduate Majoring in Music
Total Foodie
http://www.pianolessonswithrebecca.com/

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#2294476 - 06/24/14 06:48 PM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1368
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
Great discussion on this thread, and much broader than Jenny probably intended.

As it happens, I just came back from a Texas piano teacher congress, where one of the sessions was a part of this very issue - teaching studio piano to an autistic child.

One of the speakers was the mother of a now 25yo son with Asberger's Syndrome. The challenges in raising him were enormous. Another was a piano pedagogy professor who deals with disabled learners. Actually the two of them gave much the same talk a year earlier in Los Angeles at the MTNA convention.

I think this is a grass-roots movement among piano teachers, accepting such students in our studios. The high-powered teachers of young competitive pianists likely won't bother with such marginal learners, but some of us find them interesting and equally worthy of our time.

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#2294590 - 06/24/14 10:50 PM Re: Teaching special needs kids [Re: Jennysb]
Jennysb Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/15/14
Posts: 2
Loc: Michigan, U.S.A
Thank you all for your varied insight! I have enjoyed hearing from each of you. As has been noted, this topic took off in a direction other than I intended! smile But everything has been very helpful.

My goal in looking into this was simply because I was asked to teach this dyslexic kid. And then I started thinking of my good friend with a daughter with Downs. Being new to this forum, and fairly new to teaching, I thought, "what if I could pass on the JOY of making music to these special people, and in so doing find a niche in this world of piano teaching?"

Don't you think that these precious ones would gain so much more in life for love of music and the wonder of accomplishment? I don't want to be idealistic, some will never be able to learn, but that's true in the whole spectrum of humanity.

I'm willing to try. I plan to research a bunch this summer and go from there. I'm not sure if I will charge more or not. I never thought about it until you all brought it up. Not to say I agree or disagree. My initial inclination is to keep a flat rate until I really know what it takes. My husband may have other ideas, too.

Thank you for sharing from your experiences and giving your opinions, it has been helpful!
_________________________
JenSue

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