STUDENTS WHO HAVE DISABILITES


Are you someone who has a disability, or do you care for someone who does? Have you wanted lessons, but not been able to find a teacher, or have you been unsure of whether lessons are possible? I may be able to help you! Let me begin by pointing out an important distinction: I am not a music therapist. Music therapy uses music to accomplish therapeutic goals. Instead, I am a private piano and woodwind teacher who teaches students who have disabilities how to play their instruments. Learning to play an instrument can be therapeutic, but the main focus in private lessons is to learn how to play the instrument.

 

Why Choose You As My Teacher?

I have quite a bit of experience caring for people who have disabilities, from my work in group homes, my work with the Wisconsin Early Autism Project, and from having friends who have various disabilities. Conditions that I'm familiar with and have cared for include paralysis, Rett syndrome, autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, fragile X syndrome, dyslexia, anxiety disorders, cognitive disabilities, movement disorders, brain injuries, behavior disorders, and ADHD. My experience in teaching students who have disabilities is a bit more limited, and includes students who have autism, dyslexia, PTSD, depression, ADHD, brain injuries, and mild anxiety disorders. In addition, I have a physical disability myself, a medical condition called POTS that requires me to use a wheelchair. My medical condition limits the number of students I'm able to take, giving me quite a bit of time to work on lesson plans and research for each individual student. 

For each student I will often spend quite a bit of time making my own materials, asking other music teachers for ideas and help as needed, coming up with ideas to help a particular student learn a specific concept, or researching a particular condition or disorder. I'm happy to communicate with a student's therapists, doctors, or other teachers (with permission) as needed. Often I can be found arranging music or even coming up with my own method for a student. I do prefer to know of a student's diagnosis and therapeutic/medical progress so I can more accurately and efficiently tailor my teaching method to that student's strengths and challenges. I've often heard the phrase, "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism," and I believe this is true for all people who have disabilities. Each student is a unique person and will always be treated as such. However, in each diagnosis there is a list of common features--not only difficulties, but also unique strengths--and knowing about the diagnosis ahead of time will allow me to spend more time getting to know the student as a person and less time learning about the student's disability and learning needs.

My studio is set up to be as friendly to students who have disabilities as possible. The piano side of the studio is lit only by lamps with incandescent or LED bulbs, and the fluorescent light on the other side of the studio can be turned off as needed. There are no posters or other distractions in front of where students sit, and the sensory toys and wobble cushion that are available can help students concentrate. The wall staff and floor piano can help students learn music concepts through the use of gross motor movements. Color coded music and corresponding keyboard diagrams are available to help students learn to read notes. Translucent colored overlays may help students with learning disabilities, Irlen syndrome, and other visual processing disorders track and read their music more easily. 


Do You Ever Turn Away Students?

Occasionally after meeting a student and working with them I will determine that the student will benefit more from a music therapist than from private lessons with me. In this case I will communicate this openly with the student and the student's parents or caregivers, and work with them to find a music therapist. Some student's disabilities cause them to act violently toward themselves or other people. I will accept a student with a history of violent behavior for in-person lessons only if everyone's safety can be ensured at all times. If this is not possible, online lessons may be a good option. The building that the studio is located in is somewhat wheelchair accessible, but unfortunately may be difficult for students in power chairs and wider manual wheelchairs to get into and around. I will work with the building landlord as much as possible as needed to ensure that students are able to get their lessons.

 

How Can I/My Student Benefit From Lessons?

I believe most people who have disabilities are able to learn to play an instrument. In addition to the enjoyment playing an instrument brings, learning to play may help students with concentration, fine motor skills, math and language skills, and increase confidence. Playing an instrument may become a way to connect with peers, an enjoyable activity for people who aren't able to go out much, or even a lifelong passion.

Cognitive disabilities: Students who have cognitive disabilities are often able to learn to read and play music like everyone else. I will use an age-appropriate method for the student's instrument and adapt as needed.

Autism: Even many students who are non-verbal are able to learn to read music and play like everyone else. While students who have autism sometimes have challenges in some areas of learning an instrument, many also have strengths that are a great help to them in learning to play an instrument.

Low vision/blindness: I have no experience with students who are blind and only one student with low vision. Students who have low vision often don't need any adaptations other than enlarged music and worksheets. Students who are blind can either learn to play by ear, or explore and learn Braille music together with me.

Dyslexia: My wall staff, floor piano, color coded music, colored overlays, and other tools can all help a student who has dyslexia learn to read music more easily. I typically use a traditional method and adapt as needed.

Loss of fingers/hand, or loss of finger/hand function: No piano method books appear to exist for anything less than 10 functioning fingers, but I can help a student adapt as needed. Piano students who are missing or unable to use just one or two fingers will likely use a traditional piano method. For piano students who are missing or unable to use more than a couple fingers, I will adapt an existing method or write my own method as we go. There is piano music available at all levels written for just one hand. Woodwind instruments may pose more of a challenge. Adaptable recorders are available for students with all kinds of physical disabilities. For other woodwind instruments it may be possible to buy or build key extensions and other adaptations for as needed for a specific student.

Hearing loss/deafness/cochlear implants: I have no experience with people who are hearing impaired, but I'm willing to learn right along with the student. For students with profound hearing loss or deafness, a woodwind instrument may be more beneficial than piano, since woodwind players can easily feel the vibrations from their instrument as they play.

Behavior disorders: I have limited experience caring for and no experience teaching people who have behavior disorders, but I'm willing to learn. Input and ideas from the student's parents or caregivers, as well as as the students themselves, will be essential in coming up with strategies to make lessons as beneficial, productive and enjoyable for all involved.

Anxiety, depression, PTSD, mood disorders: I have limited experience caring for or teaching people who have the more severe forms of these disorders, but I'm willing to learn. Specific adaptations are not often needed. Sometimes students may need a slightly slower progression to build confidence and ensure that the student doesn't get overwhelmed. 

Cerebral palsy, brain injuries, other physical impairments: I will work with whatever abilities the student has. I'm happy to be flexible and write my own materials and adapt lessons as needed.

 

 

There are many more disabilities and conditions than the ones listed above, and each person who has a disability is a unique individual. I wrote the above list only to show that it is possible for students who have these diagnoses to learn to play an instrument, and to describe strategies I might use to address some of the most common challenges caused by these diagnoses.   
 

Ready to begin lessons? Unsure if lessons are right for you? Contact me to set up a no-obligation trial lesson! 


Do you have a school-aged student who would like to take lessons, but you are unable to afford them? Partial or full scholarship lessons are available to qualified students. Check out MusicLink to learn more!