ASD in the Studio

Ali is an autistic child who is gifted.

By understanding the students’ degree and traits, along with the research undertaken in terms of effective accommodations, private music teachers are able to structure their lessons to create an optimal learning environment for gifted, autistic children.



Verbal communication with autistic students can be varied. For some students, the means of communication will come through the music itself; a form of internal expressions.

Visual aids can assist in creating a link in communication between teacher and student, also providing a means of understanding (RCHM, 2013). In fact,

When given instructions, slow it down and provide plenty of time for the student to process the instruction and respond.

It is also important to remember that autistic students are generally very literal. They may be confused by words that play on other words or inferred instructions. Words need to be chosen carefully. If a student is showing confusion in response to an instruction, try considering alternative word choice for the instruction.

Social interactions:

“Temple Grandin…is autistic…tested with an IQ of 137 at age 8. As an adult who earned her Pd.D. at age 42, she continues to struggle with social behaviors”. 

(Baldwin & Vialle, 1999)

Establishing a trust relationship between the teacher and an autistic student is paramount. Social interaction is generally undertaken on the student’s terms and can vary from a stand-off, disconnected manner to a lack of personal space. Understanding and following the student’s lead will guide lessons in terms of the social interaction between teacher and student.  Autistic students can struggle with reading the feelings and thoughts of other people (Neihart, 2010). They have to learn how to do this and are generally going to be limited in how they are able read others thoughts and feelings. Within the private studio setting, it may be necessary to avoid inference in terms of emotion, and explicitly discuss feeling when reflecting on emotional techniques of playing. Visual images may also be helpful in conveying and understanding emotion, along with the reading and discussion of stories reflecting the pieces’ title and mood.

“Without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments” (Carpenter, 2013)


“Children with ASD often lack creativity and imaginative play. They may prefer using their senses to explore toys, for example smelling, tasting or staring at the toys rather than playing with them. Some children prefer repetitive or obsessive actions such as lining toys up in a long line or continuously spinning a car wheel. Other children become good at copying the way other children play or events such as movie scenes.

… (some) children with ASD (such as children with Asperger’s syndrome) can become intensely interested in one topic, often to the exclusion of other activities or interests”.

(RCHM, 2013)

In the private music studio, tasks involving creative composition or pieces involving imagery and imagination may be a challenge to the gifted, autistic student.

Multi-sensory instruction may be utilised when discussing a ‘picture’ a piece is creating. For example, when working on the gentle, shaped phrasing of a piece describing a walk in a rose garden, incorporating senses such as the smell of a rose, a physical walk in a rose garden, drawing a rose garden and viewing a rose garden as an image may assist in the concept understanding of the piece.

In addition, providing concrete details and examples of abstract concepts can assist in the student developing understanding of the concept being studied. (Yssel et al., 2010)


In terms of dealing with, and expressing emotion, the concept of lyric analysis could be considered. According to Hilier et al. (2012), looking closely at the lyrics of a piece and talking through them in terms of human emotion, can help identify and express current feelings about the students’ self-worth and their environment. This is a useful exercise for private singing teachers, as well as instrumentalist tutors whose students perform pieces with a lyric base. In addition, engaging on a research task researching the possible history of a piece (Amazing Grace, for example), employs cognitive engagement whilst accommodating the needs of an autistic student.


In addition, “songwriting activities can provide young adults an outlet for expression and a nonthreatening forum for sharing feelings. The songwriting product can instill in young adults a sense of pride and productivity. Songs can also be recorded to share with family and friends to increase positive socialisation with others”. (Darrow, 2014).



Autistic students  often prefer clear, predictable routines. Establish a routine within your lesson period, giving the student opportunity to engage with you in creating the routine. Including the routine in their notebook can assist quick recall and reference to the agreed routine. When introducing new concepts, do so in a gradual manner, keeping a balance of reduced repetitions (catering for cognitive ability) and monitoring the affect of change. Gifted autistic students may require less repetitions to understand a concept, yet enjoy and thrive in repetitive structures. In a private music environment, the teacher can observe and control the balance of repetitions to support the individual student. In addition, clear expectations in terms of the lesson structure/routine can reduce the rise of stress in an autistic student.


Fear of Failure:

Autistic students can often be seen as ‘perfectionists’ as they can display a very real sense of fear of failure. Fear of failure creates a barrier for a student to want to try new things. A teacher can support this fear by accepting and modeling that they make mistakes too, reminding the student that it is OK to make mistakes.

When a student presents with multiple errors in a piece, a teacher may consider working on one or two items for improvement during one session. If a student is faced with a plethora of ‘mistakes to fix’ at once, it can too overwhelming and very little in achieved as a consequence.