Autism and behavior in the music classroom and ensemble Dr. Alice M.

Autism and behavior in the
music classroom and ensemble
Dr. Alice M. Hammel
Virginia Commonwealth University
Communication Challenges
Eye contact
• Gather information
• Indicate interests and
• The intent of others can
be very confusing
• Attention has been drawn elsewhere
• Anxiety related to expectations of the classroom in
the moment
• Sensory input needs (hypo or hyper)
• Delay in cognitive processing necessary to
comprehend or retain information
Joint attention
• Attending to the interest of
• This can be extremely
• Some students are not
interested in engaging with
others, their objects, or
• An inability to process via
eye gaze, theory of mind, or
other means can exacerbate
joint attention miscues.
– Provide simple and clear instructions. Individual
instructions can also be very helpful.
– Partner written instructions with other modalities
(aural, kinesthetic)
– Establish a communication journal between you, the
special education team, and the parents/guardians (if
• - Utilize digital video and audio recordings for students
to take home and practice
Alternative Communication
Other Alternatives
• Big Mack (able net)
• Sign Language
• Clickers
Makey makey
Social Stories
• As individual books
• Using pictures of the
• Positive statements
Let’s Make Music
• I Love My Little Rooster
• I Am Not Afraid (iPad)
Hungry Caterpillar
Cognition Challenges
Central Coherence
• Central Coherence Theory
– Focus on the local rather than the global aspects of an
object of interest
Theory of mind
– Trouble predicting
actions, intent by
assuming beliefs or state
of mind
– Tone of voice
– Often cannot
understand looks,
glances, figures of
speech, tone of voice,
Executive Function
• Motor Planning
– Multi-step directions
• Megacognition
Strategies for Music Teachers
(all levels)
• Consider behavior needs in context:
• Observe in other settings and specifically attend to
cognitive/behavioral connections
• Self-assess delivery of material during class/rehearsal
• Discuss and strategize with special education team
and parents
To relieve anxiety that can lead to behavior outbursts:
– Modify projects, assignments, and exams to include less
material but the same expectations
– Provide peer support for re-directing or simplifying
– Allow for pull out time with a peer or team teacher to
reinforce understanding and provide a break
(secondary performance)
– Have a student perform only what he can
contribute to a meaningful performance.
– Provide material well in advance.
– Rehearse a segment and allow a student to
practice this exact segment individually before
Social Challenges
• Little interest in objects of
• May not play simple
interaction games
• May not laugh or smile in
response to positive
• Limited interest in social
speech, imitation, and joint
• Lack of social function or
understanding of social cues
Socialization and Academic Progress
• Social communication
and academic progress
are inherently linked
• We learn by observing
others and through
witnessing the
outcomes of those
Fundamentals of Social
Social speech
Collaborative play
Eye contact
Joint attention
Pass the Ball
We are the Dinosaurs
Other Challenges for
Students with special needs
• Language Delays
• Age Appropriate Interests
• Difficulty interpreting
behaviors and emotions
• Difficulty interpreting
facial expressions that
include emotion
Strategies for Educators
• Eye Contact
• Appropriate Responses
• Joint Attention
Strategies for Educators
• Finding interests that
connect students
• May not be typical or
age appropriate
Other Considerations
• Reverse Inclusion
• Buddies
• Appropriate
• Jargon/slang
Eric Chappelle
• Lucky Stuff
– Eric Chappelle
Classroom Strategies
• Structure the classroom so that expectations are
clearly understood
• Rules are plainly stated routines are predictable.
• Review the classroom rules frequently
– If a student is having difficulty with a rule, create a visual and
kinesthetic reminder
– Be clear and concise. Provide specific examples of the rules.
– Be aware of approximations of a rule.
Classroom strategies
• Develop a monitoring system.
• Make frequent eye contact.
• Create a private signal to use when the student must
pay attention.
– You may also wish to create a signal that she can use to
indicate that she needs your attention or help.
• Help with organization. A “buddy” can help gather
materials and prepare for class.
Classroom strategies
• Assist with transition difficulties that could lead to
organizational or behavioral differences during class.
• Allow a few additional minutes to adjust and
organize materials before beginning class.
• Place the student in a location with the least number
of distractions.
• Seat students who are good role models near
students who will benefit from the model.
Classroom strategies
• Intersperse passive tasks with active tasks; strive for
high levels of participation.
• Give directions clearly, after gaining attention of the
• Keep directions short and simple.
• Avoid giving a long series of commands at one time.
• Have students repeat directions to you, if necessary,
to ensure understanding.
Classroom strategies
• Encourage students to “talk themselves through
– Reduces impulsive decision making
– Improves sequential organization of steps involved in
performing an assignment or handling a new situation.
– Encourage “self-talk” (i.e., “I worked well on that
Classroom strategies
• Encourage students to learn to plan by requiring the use of a
homework and/or day planner and helping students develop
a “stop” strategy:
– Stop - slow down….take a deep breath
– Think – What is my problem?
– Options – What are my choices?
– Plan – What am I going to do?
Classroom strategies
• Keep independent work time as short as possible.
• Create smaller tasks from a large assignment.
• Students can be overwhelmed by large assignments.
– Smaller tasks make the assignment seem manageable
– and increase the possibility that the assignment will be
Classroom strategies
• Allow students to release excess energy.
It is difficult for students to sit for long period of times.
• This movement can include:
– a trip to the restroom
– serving as a messenger to another classroom,
– helping erase the board, or simply standing and stretching.
– green and red flip cards. When the red side is showing it means
students need to remain seated. When the green side is showing
students may quietly move about the room.
Classroom strategies
• Coach social skills.
• Students with ASD often have difficulty relating to
– they may cut in line
– talk too much
– blurt out answers
– interrupt conversations
– intrude in games
Classroom Strategies
• Students sometimes have difficulty making friends.
• Provide students guided practice in ways to behave
in various situations.
• Over time, this can help students
• become more observant of behavior
• more aware of alternative ways of behaving
• less impulsive when responding.
Classroom strategies
• Students respond well to tasks they can complete by
• Movement aids ability to attend to classroom
activities and to continue to behave according to
class and ensemble norms.
• ACTIVITY: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Classroom strategies
• When working with students with ASD, use many
whole-body (gross motor) activities.
• Keep hands busy and allow for postures other than
• Provide strong visual input and “show” then “tell”
Classroom strategies
• Put emphasis on quality rather than quantity.
• Consider reducing assignments while emphasizing
competency and mastery.
• Students with ASD may also need extra time to
complete assignments to reduce anxiety and
Classroom strategies
• Keep a daily schedule on the board or other
prominent place.
• Discuss the schedule and remind in advance of any
changes that will occur.
• Use signals for transitions:
– turning the light off/on
– ringing a bell
– playing music as a gentle reminder the activity is coming
to a close.
Classroom strategies
• If students are having difficulty completing
assignments within an allotted time, set a timer.
• The timer can coincide with the amount of time you
perceive students are able to remain focused.
• Tell the students what you expect to be completed in
the allotted time (behavior, academic, social goals)
• Gradually, the time can be increased and students
can experience success.
Classroom Strategies
• Allow students an extra set of classroom materials, at
– This assists with transition and improves the possibility
that students will be in class with all required materials.
Classroom strategies
• Use random strategies when calling on students
during large and small group activities.
• Place student names in a basket and randomly select
• Be sure to call on a student with ASD before she
becomes agitated from waiting longer than she is
Classroom Strategies
• Place the majority of colorful items in the back of the
classroom, or an area not facing the students during
group instruction.
– Particularly important if there are items of special interest
for a student with ASD.
• ACTIVITY: Find Your Family
Up, Up, and Away
Bach Movement
Teacher Attitudes and Beliefs:
Things we can do to help students with ASD
• Accept characteristics of ASD, especially inconsistent
• Recognize that students with ASD perform at their best in
a safe environment—academically, emotionally and
• Sarcasm, bringing attention to deficits, and unkind
criticism are to be avoided at all times.
• Children with ASD respond significantly better when they
are encouraged and feel safe to make mistakes.
Teacher attitudes cont.
• Recognize that no two students with ASD are alike and
that there are multiple approaches to working with each
student that can and will be different from student to
• Do not attribute all behavior and school work to ADHD.
Recognize that ASD is neurological and beyond the control
of the student.
Teacher Attitudes
• Schools contain elements that can be students with
day is too long
you have to sit still - too much listening
too many distractions
the day is controlled
too many rules
not enough high interest activities
too many things to remember and organize
too much homework
“When you know better, you do better.”
- Maya Angelou
“Fair is providing students with what they need,
not treating them all the same.”
~ A. Turnbull, R. Turnbull, M. Shank, and D. Leal, 1999

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