Enabling Students with Disabilities or Diverse Learning Needs to Flourish through Music
- Welcome students warmly.
- Plan the lesson, write it down in a way the students will understand and have it visible, so they know what to expect.
- Ignore any behaviours such as tics.
- Always use a calm voice and give immediate and positive feedback.
Schedules: have a written timetable up in the classroom. If there is going to be a change, let the students know in advance and indicate it on the timetable/schedule.
Schedules tell the students when they are going to do an activity and for how long. They help answer many of the questions these students have: What is happening? In what order? What is next? For how long?
- Be prepared for an apparent unwillingness to make eye contact, respond to questions or wait for you to finish speaking before interrupting or going ahead with a task.
- Make sure all your reactions are calm and predictable, and try not to take inappropriate behaviour or lack of empathy as a personal insult.
- Make sure all instructions are clear and concrete. Slow down your delivery and limit your instructions, breaking them down into small “bites”. Allow the students time to process information (verbal and visual) before you repeat instructions or questions, or take away visual information.
- Avoid open-ended questions, figurative speech and sarcasm.
- Students on the autism spectrum are visual learners. Using visual cues helps
- Shorten the processing time needed for instructions and information; for example, by using a picture chart to show which part of the lesson you are in.
- Check understanding before moving on to the next instruction.
- Prepare students for change well in advance.
- Do not stop repetitive movements, such as stimming. Students on the autism spectrum need these to cope with stressful situations.
- Set consistent rules for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Be firm, but kind and predictable in enforcing these rules, and remember that a raised voice or disappointed face may not be understood.
- Most students on the autism spectrum have a huge fear of failure, and this can be seen as “perfectionism”. Constantly wanting to start a piece again because one note was played by mistake is common. Demonstrate to the class that you are happy if a performance is not perfect.
Never criticise a student in front of the class.
- Find out from the parents if their child reacts to certain stimuli and, if necessary, reduce background noise, and avoid bright lights and wearing perfume or certain colours.
- Use their favourite activities to motivate them. It is best to use lots of short rewards rather than wait until the end of the lesson. A quick activity and then a quick reward is the most effective.
- Always have a sense of humour
- Above all, be patient, calm and supportive, always offering encouragement and praise.
Daphne Proietto OAM, Keys of Life
Daphne Proietto OAM started teaching students with diverse learning needs and disabilities at her home in 1999. In the beginning, it was a therapeutic approach rather than “teaching”. Daphne’s second student (who had no functional language but could use words when he sang) showed her that teaching was possible using the Suzuki method (he had previously tried the reading method). Word quickly spread around musical circles that Daphne was producing positive outcomes for these students using the innate abilities that most of them possess, such as perfect pitch and excellent memory.
Daphne’s work concentrates on developing the students’ fine and gross motor skills at an early stage and bringing them to an awareness of their aural skills. She also concentrates on building a rapport not only with the student, but with the family as well – emphasising that most of the work is done at home and that the parents need to be involved in their child’s musical development.
Daphne was featured on 60 Minutes in 2015, after which she was flooded with enquiries from parents who were keen for her to teach many more children. The Keys of Life Foundation was set up to help Daphne train the teachers of the future, enabling more children to gain access to my methods.
Keys of Life now offers online modules for teachers who wish to learn more about teaching students with disabilities and/or diverse learning needs. More information can be found at https://keysoflife.com.au/