Repost: Shot in the Dark: 9 yr old aspie/dyslexic violinist

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lacklustermom
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11 Dec 2012, 1:53 pm

I'm seeking some outside perspective for some trouble my 9yr old son (dx with aspergers/dyslexia at age 6) is having with his violin playing.

The background: He's been playing for 2 1/2 years with the same teacher and has been doing suzuki method for 1 1/2 years. He is on suzuki book 2. He's tried not playing for a month last summer but ended up playing the violin in his head anyway so he went back to it. He has what seems like undue stress and upset when practising any new song, anything he cannot play without mistakes. His new song involves a new bowing technique- he has to play several notes on the same bow stroke and he is having trouble doing it and is getting upset by the effort and is unwilling to try the action over-and-over (the traditional way to practice a music piece, "do it until you get it right") because, I presume, making the mistake feels very "wrong" to him.

So, we are at an impasse, it's been a month and he's made progress on the rest of the song but can't seem to get the new bowing down and even though he can try it briefly with success in his lessons he does not want to try it in practice.

I'm wanting to understand more about this experience he is having. I read in the book "Gift of Dyslexia" about how it can be really upsetting to dyslexics when two senses disagree, something about how their brain is "wired". In this case, from what I can get out of my son, he has the song in his head and when he makes a mistake with the violin in his hands, the two songs disagree and that is very unpleasant for him. Unpleasant= wrong=emotional upset, tension, some stimming etc.

I would like to know if there are any Aspergian/autistic musicians out there who can maybe share their similar experience with us? There must be a way through this, but I don't know what it is. Social stories, a different style of practice, maybe adding awareness from a different perspective- attempting to normalize what he is feeling? Or maybe the teacher is wrong or the Suzuki method is not right for him, or it's not being interpreted correctly for him?

I think I'm feeling desperate for some information about how people on the autism spectrum learn music. Is anyone looking into this?


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ASDMommyASDKid
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11 Dec 2012, 2:22 pm

I am not going to be able to give any music related advice but my son will imagine what a piece of his art/writing etc. should look like and it upsets him a lot when his fine motor skills are not up to the task of producing what he imagined. In his case I think it is related to his dislike and intolerance for imperfection. He has gotten better at dealing with it, but unfortunately in our case anything below perfect seems to be equal so he has a tendency to not put forth much effort when he knows it won't be perfect. He is also impatient and does not like having to put forth so much effort to get slow, small improvements.

This could be an issue for you as well. I don't know if dyslexia makes it worse but I know autism/Asperger's does create frustration similar to what you describe. We have been trying to focus on teaching patience and perseverance. Given that music is your son's special interest, you might want to find stories about famous musicians that had to work really long and hard to get really good, and that it was worth it in the end.



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11 Dec 2012, 2:37 pm

Well you have enlightened me! I have similar problems with my son who seems so musically inclined. I don't know what would be the best musical training for him. My goal is to give some musical training when he's young, so he can find his own nitch and go in any number of directions when he's an adult. I started him in a high level chorus not only for the musical training but for the experience of being in a large group (he's homeschooled). He says he hates it, especially that he has to sing high. But in every other way it seems to like it - he repeatedly listens to the prior year CDs of the chorus, he made a friend, he has knowledgable comments on all music he hears, he's happy there etc. The director says the two sides of his brain are not working together. Okay. So where do we go from here. If I told him that, he'd be very upset. He also insists that he's not doing chorus next year.

So it's confusing for me to figure out what's the next step. piano lessons? I played violin and I know that may be too complicated because of intonation. I know you can get software that teaches music and you can then write music using the software. Maybe that's an option.

Anyway, my question for lacklustermom: What is your goal in having him take violin?



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11 Dec 2012, 2:57 pm

lacklustermom, one thing I don't see in your post that to me, before I could help at all, is pretty important to know before moving on.

I hope you don't take any offense that this, because it is something sometimes noticeable from non-autistic parents of autistic children.

Does he like playing the violin? I mean, is playing something he wanted to get into? How did it come about that he started playing? Was it his idea?


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lacklustermom
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11 Dec 2012, 3:59 pm

Good questions about goals of playing the violin and whether he likes it.

We study music in our family. It's part of my kid's enrichment education and one of the main goals is to teach "studentship". My kids picked their instruments at around age six, son violin, daughter piano, and began lessons. They practice for about 20 min a day most days of the week and they have a half hour lesson once a week. I'm more of a "it's about the process" kind of parent.

My son likes to play and he wants to play, as I said he plays in his head even when he doesn't play. He did try not playing for awhile, as I mentioned, and chose to go back to it. His ability at violin playing is probably about average.

I think the black and white thinking and tendency toward perfectionism are having the best of him right now. He also does not like change and trying new things. I don't feel that stopping lessons is much of a solution to those issues. I actually see my son's music education as one means to address those issues in his life. I'm sensing that he might need a different approach- or at least I would like to try a new approach based on his neurological needs, to see if he can have a more positive experience.


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11 Dec 2012, 5:43 pm

lacklustermom wrote:
I think the black and white thinking and tendency toward perfectionism are having the best of him right now. He also does not like change and trying new things. I don't feel that stopping lessons is much of a solution to those issues. I actually see my son's music education as one means to address those issues in his life. I'm sensing that he might need a different approach- or at least I would like to try a new approach based on his neurological needs, to see if he can have a more positive experience.


My DS takes piano and he has a hard time learning new pieces - because of his perfectionism. If he can't play it correctly right away, he gets very upset (angry/cries/says he is stupid - says he will NEVER get it). It always an over blown reaction. I have found that if i have him just work on one line at a time, rather than the whole piece it helps (most of the time). Once he does get a piece, he really enjoys it, but when we have to start a new one - we are back to crying. My son is not dyslexic, but is autistic and he does have a learning disability - learning to read (text) was a struggle. He has very good auditory comprehension, and learns piano best by ear, but his reading the music coming along. If I were you I would probably talk to his teacher and skip the song with the bowing,, maybe return to it in 6 months (or never). You may want a new teacher if she insists on rigidly following the Suzuki method Violin is a very difficult instrument to play (I play - my mom is a profession violinist, and also teaches - not Suzuki) and your son has only been playing for 2 1/2 years. I would have him focus on a different aspect of playing, and come back to more difficult bowing later. You want him to continue to enjoy it.


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11 Dec 2012, 6:51 pm

I sometimes get extremely frustrated when I can't get a piece of music to come out right. When the frustration becomes too much, I need to stop trying for a while (take a break), or try to play something else (something easier) until the frustration passes.

In my case, the problem is that sometimes when the notes I hear on the outside don't match the notes I hear on the inside, the whole pattern of the song gets interrupted and falls apart. I lose my place: Suddenly I can't find the next note and I've forgotten the one that came before it. It's a bit like the floor suddenly dropping out from under your feet ... when it happens over and over and over and over it can get to be intolerably frustrating.


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lacklustermom
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11 Dec 2012, 8:27 pm

animalcrackers wrote:
when the notes I hear on the outside don't match the notes I hear on the inside, the whole pattern of the song gets interrupted and falls apart. I lose my place: Suddenly I can't find the next note and I've forgotten the one that came before it. It's a bit like the floor suddenly dropping out from under your feet ... when it happens over and over and over and over it can get to be intolerably frustrating.


Ok, YES, this sounds familiar. I didn't fully understand the piece about suddenly not knowing the next note or the previous ones, that feeling precipitating a sort of mental nose dive. Yikes! :oops: :o

Intolerable frustration, yes, that's what I'm seeing lately. I don't know, suddenly my kid seems a little bit brave for just picking up his violin everyday.

So taking a break, do you then switch gears and play something more familiar- like scales? or do you put the instrument away and do something else entirely? either way, the point is that you have found that you recognize the need for a break and you act on it. I wonder if I can write a social story about this....does anyone know if there is a good one for this situation?

We could try to take a break with a timer. I use timers a lot for other things, like when to start chores or do homework. (reduces the agitation from surprise factor) Usually i just ask him how much time he needs. Mostly he gives 10-15 min ranges.

I am seeking some perspectives from others who may have a similar experience. I really want to keep the discussion on topic as an exploration of what works as far as best practices for learning and practicing music for those on the autism spectrum.
Certainly reading was too difficult for my son until he began a dyslexia reading program geared toward how he needed to learn. I'm sure the same is true for learning music. He is successful in the classroom thanks to the accommodations he has. I see no reason why he can't enjoy success with the violin as well, especially if I can get some support in identifying the necessary "musical" accommodations and strategies which honor his experience.


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12 Dec 2012, 1:56 pm

My AS son (4th grade, started playing piano in kindergarten, so now on his fifth year of lessons) used to have this problem to quite a degree. But this year I am seeing really big improvement in this area, especially when he likes the piece for whatever reason (when he takes a dislike to a piece, different story, but by this point our teacher is aware of the DX and is agreeable to move to a new piece without achieving the level of polish he usually expects of my son). DS has just learned his first piece in a ragtime style/rythm, and he had a really tough time coordinating all these notes that need to be played on the off beat, and a lot of moving around from spot to spot on the keyboard, but he practiced with enthusiasm because the piece was "fun to play even when I am messing it up". So there could be light at the end of that tunnel for you too...

I agree with a couple of the recommendations of the others who have already responded - breaking a new piece down and asking him to learn only a little piece each practice session, helped us a lot. So did taking breaks and agreeing to a schedule for the lesson. (Practice the awful part you "can't play" 5 times and then we will get to play out scales, or our piece from last week, or the piece of this week's piece that we already know, as a break). And having the right teacher, who is understanding of my son's difference and experienced, is also an asset. Our teacher considers that even his NT students sometimes get stuck on a specific thing and it is OK to move on if everything else is on track, and uses a lot of supplemental materials to the standard books he uses for times when a kid is not ready to progress to the next piece (as they do tend to get steadily more demanding!) but has issues with the piece they are on, moving them sideways rather than upwards when needed.

I never wrote a social story (not in my skill set :D ) but I did create some talking points for myself that I would regularly repeat in this context, so I think a social story could help if you could find or create one. At least for my son, there was a self-esteem issue mixed in there. He has the perfectionism of hating that the music he is making does not sound like the music in his head, but on top of that he felt that his inability to produce music that sounded like the music in his head, was due to a defect/failing in him. I had to remind him often that all students make such mistakes, and that it is a part of learning any new skill. It is not that he is bad at piano, it is that the whole point of practicing is that his brain already knows what to do (the music in his head is right) but the way his brain teaches his fingers to make the music coming from the instrument to match the music in his head, is to make them try to do it over and over again. I used analogies. Sports was one that worked for us, he accepts that one needs to repetitively practice passes and shots on the goal in soccer, or free throws and layups in basketball, since these are things all the kids do in gym/practices. So was writing (it is a struggle for him, he has dysgraphia and still receives OT services as part of his IEP to help address this, but he can now, if he really makes an effort, write legibly, again the result of practice...) I also reinforced for him every time he did learn a hard bit of his pieces, how badly he had played the first time, and the contrast with how easily he can play it now. (In my son's specific case this appeals to his sense of humor, he finds it funny he used to not be able to play such an "easy" piece once he learns it...) I would also regularly remind him of how many different occasions we had this experience, of this huge struggle to get started, and then of the eventual mastery of the piece. Having him go back and relearn pieces from a few months ago also helped. It was always easy for him to relearn, and I think was another way to see his progress, that he was still having difficulty not because he is still bad at music (he is not, he has a good ear and an unusual/precocious interest in music theory), but because the music he is learning now, is truly harder than the music he learned months ago.



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12 Dec 2012, 3:27 pm

lacklustermom wrote:
So taking a break, do you then switch gears and play something more familiar- like scales? or do you put the instrument away and do something else entirely?


That depends on the level of frustration. Generally my first strategy is to play something more familiar, but if I've let my frustration get out of hand (pushing on beyond the point where I should be admitting to myself that I need a break) or if that doesn't work, I just stop playing entirely.

lacklustermom wrote:
either way, the point is that you have found that you recognize the need for a break and you act on it. I wonder if I can write a social story about this....does anyone know if there is a good one for this situation?


It all comes down to frustration-tolerance and learning to recognize the level of frustration that comes just before "intolerable" or "overwhelming". If there are social stories about recognizing how upset/frustrated/angry you are about something and then taking a "time out" to cool off, maybe you could adapt them?

I'm not sure about this, but deciding when to take a break, what kind of a break to take, and how much of a break to take might be different for me because I'm self-taught...so:

For me there has never been a difference between practice and playing for any other reason.

I've always decided what I play, and how much I want to challenge myself. (There was no lesson plan, so I could learn things in whatever order worked for me -- I'd give up entirely on songs that, a month/year/years later I could play with ease when I tried them again.)

The only person who's expectations have ever factored into my music-playing are my own (unless I'm playing with other people, but the expectations here would be different than the expectation which would be a part of lessons).


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12 Dec 2012, 4:07 pm

Half the battle is him actually wanting to play. The motivation to do it is there. Sometimes though, it can be an obsessional thing too. Like he's so mad that he's not getting it right, it's the beast he HAS to conquer. My son gets exactly like this with video games of all things. :roll:

I haven't yet figured out what to do about it. I often get so annoyed watching and listening to him grunt, growl, and throwing the games. With the games it's a simple matter of making him get off them. I wouldn't want to do that if he were learning to play an instrument though. That's different for sure. I play guitar myself so I would love it if it were about that instead.

Wish I had more for you, but I don't yet. I'll be watching this thread though. Hopefully I'll glean something useful out of it. 8)


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12 Dec 2012, 6:31 pm

Arithmancer
"I agree with a couple of the recommendations of the others who have already responded - breaking a new piece down and asking him to learn only a little piece each practice session, helped us a lot. So did taking breaks and agreeing to a schedule for the lesson. (Practice the awful part you "can't play" 5 times and then we will get to play out scales, or our piece from last week, or the piece of this week's piece that we already know, as a break). "[/quote]

Me:
Yes, we do this too- I consider this under the category of "standard fare" for music practice- the approach to take with any music student. Although I will say that sometimes my son is really resistant to repeating the difficult bits over and over, now, thanks to animalcrackers, I can understand why. So the repetition is not always the best strategy for my kid, I can see where I'll need to be more sensitive about gauging frustration levels. Maybe we can implement some sort of meter system. 0-10 scale how frustrated are you feeling? 2-4 take a few breaths 5-7 maybe switch to something else for a while 8-10 take a break.

Arithmancer:
"And having the right teacher, who is understanding of my son's difference and experienced, is also an asset. Our teacher considers that even his NT students sometimes get stuck on a specific thing and it is OK to move on if everything else is on track, and uses a lot of supplemental materials to the standard books he uses for times when a kid is not ready to progress to the next piece (as they do tend to get steadily more demanding!) but has issues with the piece they are on, moving them sideways rather than upwards when needed."

Me: I feel that, in my role as a parent, I am maturing as far as my ability to communicate effectively with my son's teachers (the ones outside of school) about what he needs, based on what I know about how he learns best. I can be more clear with my kid's teacher when I am clear myself and hence this conversational thread. My son's teacher is very good but he does not know what I do not share with him. I don't think I have felt that I was able to relate to him about my son's needs other than "Well, he has Aspergers, so you know, he gets kind of upset sometimes." That really does not convey much useful information and puts the burden on my son's teacher who, of course, has no direct experience with teaching children on the spectrum, though he certainly works with gifted students many of whom have similar sensibilities surrounding frustration.

Arithmancer:
"At least for my son, there was a self-esteem issue mixed in there. He has the perfectionism of hating that the music he is making does not sound like the music in his head, but on top of that he felt that his inability to produce music that sounded like the music in his head, was due to a defect/failing in him. I had to remind him often that all students make such mistakes, and that it is a part of learning any new skill. It is not that he is bad at piano, it is that the whole point of practicing is that his brain already knows what to do (the music in his head is right) but the way his brain teaches his fingers to make the music coming from the instrument to match the music in his head, is to make them try to do it over and over again."

Me: Yes, I wrote something in one of my blog entries about this.( http://lacklusterparent.com/2012/11/27/ ... gers-lane/ ) Children often assign the wrong meaning to situations and then create false identities "I'm worthless." "I'm a failure." So as parents we constantly have to be attuned to this and help children find the deeper truth underneath the false identity. Which you described beautifully.


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12 Dec 2012, 6:55 pm

animalcrackers wrote:

I've always decided what I play, and how much I want to challenge myself. (There was no lesson plan, so I could learn things in whatever order worked for me -- I'd give up entirely on songs that, a month/year/years later I could play with ease when I tried them again.)

The only person who's expectations have ever factored into my music-playing are my own (unless I'm playing with other people, but the expectations here would be different than the expectation which would be a part of lessons).


I can see how someone else's expectations would be an added burden to the whole frustrating dynamic. somthing to keep in mind.

Can you fill in the details about your instrument when you started playing etc?


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13 Dec 2012, 1:35 am

lacklustermom wrote:
Can you fill in the details about your instrument when you started playing etc?


I mostly play the piano and started when I was about 11 (I say "mostly" because it's the only instrument I regularly play and can play well). I started playing the saxophone when I was 9 but had largely abandoned it by the time I started learning the piano. I've learned a bit of guitar in fits and starts that began in my late teens (not sure exactly what age I was).

Could you be more specific about "etc"? ( "etc" suggests that there are more things you'd like to know but I don't know what those things are.)


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13 Dec 2012, 3:52 pm

animalcrackers wrote:
Could you be more specific about "etc"? ( "etc" suggests that there are more things you'd like to know but I don't know what those things are.)


Yes, I hesitated in using the word, "etc.", as it is very imprecise. I was in a hurry and that seemed like a quick way to sum up any other questions I did not have time to think up. "etc." being an invitation for more extemporaneous personal details which you think might be of interest given the subject of conversation, details which I did not yet know or did not think to ask about directly. I just left it up to you to decide if there is any "etc." you wish to add, given the open invitation to do so.

I do want to encourage more free-form exploration in my son's musical education, as you describe from your own experience. Honestly, that free-form exploration is, I feel, the means of manifesting the true gifts of autism. I think that the age of 11 might be the developmental age which starts the desire for the exploration. Another poster on this thread also spoke of her fifth grader really coming into his piano playing at around that same age. It's definitely something I will "muse" about some more. You've given me quite a bit to think about, so thank you for your contributions here.


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