Reply To: inclusive non-verbal autism students and their opportunities

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Hi Tyler, I spend one afternoon each week teaching music at a school for children with moderate to severe disabilities. I typically have students with a variety of disabilities in any given class and I try to find innovative ways to include all the children in the activities, often modifying the expectation for students who are non-verbal or have a physical disability preventing participation in a particular activity. For performances, I often include motions or simple movements in addition to singing so that all students (even those who are nonverbal) can engage in the performing experience. I also have included simple percussion in performances, having all or some students play the heartbeat on shakers or jingle bells (instruments requiring only gross motor motion). This way students who may not be able to sing can contribute to the musical fabric of the performance. I often ask the child’s aid to assist with hand over hand instruction during the performance to keep the child on the steady beat. I have occasionally run into a situation where a child with autism (or other disability) has very impressive rhythmic abilities. In this case I have provided an opportunity for pentatonic improvisation on a glockenspiel (removing the fa and ti bars), assisting the child to play independently on the beat or subdivision. The success of individual children on this task has been impressive and surprising at times. At any rate, I do have all my students participate in performances and I find ways to keep them involved even if they can’t sing. Teachers and parents have consistently been quite impressed with the level of participation elicited during music time. I find that by providing different kinds of opportunities, I can find one that works for each individual child. I find this work incredibly rewarding. It is often my favorite part of the week! 🙂 Hope this helps! ~Sarah B., Council for General Music Chair