Teaching piano to diagnosed autistic with demand avoidance

Teaching piano to diagnosed autistic with demand avoidance

by Maria Bennett -
Number of replies: 2


Does anyone have any tips or are there any guide lines to help teach those with demand avoidance issues,  or do teachers just not teach those that can not do what is asked?

I am teaching a boy, 8 years old who has been diagnosed in February, after having issues at school with behaviour. 

He shows promise and is musical.  Shows elements of true potential, reading notes well, sings back well however seems to have random meltdowns in lesson, doesn't want to play the scale asked.

The first exam coming up soon,  so I have no idea if on examiners request the pupil will play the required scale or just play whatever they want, or meltdown in front of examiner?

Can anyone advise?  

Thanks Maria 

In reply to Maria Bennett

Re: Teaching piano to diagnosed autistic with demand avoidance

by Kate Andrews -
Hi Maria,

Thanks for your post. There are a couple of angles here - how to approach lessons and what might happen in the exam.

In terms of the lessons, I've spent a fair chunk of my career working with young people with specific needs, as well as in special schools. Wherever possible, offering a limited choice is a really good option - perhaps saying "What shall we start with today? Scales or pieces?" - this is also what the examiner will ask! This offers a choice, but only within a narrow range, and doesn't give an easy option to say no, which could happen if you said "Shall we do some scales now?"

The "meltdowns" you describe can be really tricky to navigate - including in the exam room. It's likely that your pupil is experiencing an emotional overwhelm at these times. Essentially, we always have a balance between emotional and cognitive loads in our brains - if one is overwhelming, there just isn't space for the other one. What this means in practice is that your pupil is really unlikely to be able to respond in a rational way with the cognitive side if he's experiencing an emotional overload. Finding a way to acknowledge this and wait for it to pass might be helpful - something like "I can imagine this feels really difficult/confusing. You let me know when you're ready to carry on."

Essentially, if you're able to avoid direct demands, you're more likely to avoid the demand avoidance, if that makes sense! You haven't mentioned whether you teach this pupil in a school or home setting, but asking for advice from parents or teachers about what helps him might be a good shout, if you haven't already.

In terms of the exam, do make sure that your pupil has been entered for the exam with a Specific Needs code - this allows for extra time, and sometimes other reasonable adjustments, in the exam and means the examiner will be ready to help (they always are anyway, but the code gives them an extra heads up). ABRSM examiners have great, ongoing training around specific needs and will help in any reasonable way they can during the exam. As with anything, a first exam will partly be a fact finding exercise - I hope it is as positive an experience as it possibly can be and that you can both take some great learning for the future.

Wishing you happy music making and teaching.

In reply to Maria Bennett

Re: Teaching piano to diagnosed autistic with demand avoidance

by Catherine Millar -
Hi Maria,
The reply from Kate is very comprehesive and is great advice. I would only add, maybe having a mock exam in advance of day, firstly with you and then maybe another time with an appropriate colleague. Would it also be possible to go and play on the piano in the actual exam room in advance of the day? Any or all of these things may reduce the new sensory experiences happening on that one day for the first time.
I once stayed in the room for a whole exam (student didn't want me to leave after accompanying first two piececs) and it was an interesting experience. It all went well apart from right at the end when the student wasn't quite understanding the question in the aural and the examiner didn't quite pick up that they needed to come at it from another angle and re-word the question. So I would practise aural tests with different ways of asking questions, just in case. Good luck with it all. It is great that he has you taking the time to make this a postive experience for him.
Best wishes