Advice for teaching music to ASD child


DD10 is a talented musician, she plays cello, piano and sings. She has such huge potential and is desperate to follow in big (NT) sister's footsteps and go to one of the college Junior Departments then on to Specialist Music School. She absolutely has the ability, but we are having serious issues in lessons and with practice that will prevent her from going much further if we can't find a way through.

In lessons, when she is not happy about something she is being asked to do, she slumps, drops her head, won't make eye contact or talk and if she does talk, mumbles in a totally incomprehensible way.  It's really hard to get her to re-engage. On Saturday, her poor cello teacher ended up in tears because she so desperately wants to be able to help her and doesn't know what to do. 

At home, practice is a battle ground. She wants me in the room, but if I say anything corrective it is taken as criticism and she explodes. If I say anything positive/encouraging, I'm lying. If I say nothing at all, that is equally wrong. She refuses repetition (kind of necessary!). 

Examples of triggers/ touch points:

  • Scales - She point blank refuses to do them
  • Being asked to do something again
  • Being stopped /interrupted by the teacher
  • Teacher demonstrating to correct something that isn't quite right - especially if teacher exaggerates something that she has done incorrectly to clearly show her what she was doing. 
  • Teacher playing or singing along with her
  • Not waiting until the teacher has finished giving an instruction before she starts to play/sing - she thinks she knows what she's being told and won't wait to let them finish explaining
  • Simply being asked how she thinks she might improve something she has just played - because that indicates she didn't do it right / perfectly.

She is so very sensitive to any kind of 'criticism', no matter how it is delivered. And she is her own worst critic. I tried writing a social story covering how when you are learning music, you won't get everything right first time, that's why you need to practice, teachers are there to help blah blah blah. She completely blew up because 'I would never say those things. I hate your stories. They annoy me'.

I'm not being pushy. If she want's to stop that's totally fine (and in many ways would be a huge relief). But she genuinely desperately wants to do it and has so much potential. 

Her teachers have varying levels of experience with this sort of thing, I guess I'm looking for advice and ways for all of us to help her. 

Thanks in advance. 

  • Hi, is she able to improvise and play jazz or something similar instead of classical music? I wonder if she has her own special talent that is not necessarily going by the book but something with greater freedom and where there is less comparison with a sibling.   There is a series called Micro Jazz by Christopher Norton, you could show her on youtube and see if she would like it. Some teachers are willing to do this.

    I freestyled myself through several piano grades as a child without the teacher noticing I wasn't reading the music. I used to listen to my sister play hers then learn it in my head. I got caught out when we started getting different assignments and I no longer had the audio lead from my sister's half of the lesson.  Still, 40 years on, I still play a bit and my sister doesn't.