Upon releasing my first ever blog for Mindful Music and sharing more about my story, I called my sibling to talk about it. A lot of my story overlaps with theirs. In fact, before planning and writing this blog series, I called again and asked permission.
The answer I received was a resounding “yes”. They said, “People need to know.”, “People need to know that it’s ok to talk about it” and “Someone like me might need to hear this.” They expressed, “People need to know about music as an outlet and that there’s nothing wrong with them.”
People need to know.
I get goosebumps just recalling their words.
With that intention, I share an important part of what I do through Mindful Music in this third and final installment of my blog series, “Teaching is Art”.
Just like a lot of what I do, it really has very little to do with the twenty-five years of formal training I received as a classical musician.
Rather than my time in conservatory, my life and experiences have been my teacher.
A big part of Mindful Music is this: I have specific experience, expertise and passion for working with kids that are on the Autism spectrum or have any type of neurodiversity. In fact, I seek them out. This is expressed through the containers I create in my piano lessons.
Working with kids on the spectrum is not something I’ve ever really broadcasted because at the end of the day, I don’t really see it as any different than my other lessons I teach.
I’m still just meeting them where they are. What I do is an ebb and flow custom space holding experience for every person I serve. This is a constant.
Maybe this is where the beauty lies in what these students and I create in lessons together. It’s not a different playbook or values when I work with young people that have ASD. It’s the same.
Very simply, I meet them as they are. Just like anyone else.
However, the more I experience, the more feedback I receive, the needs I observe, the rarity of this quality of container, the deeper I feel about serving this community, and very specifically the words of my sibling “People need to know”, I am compelled to share about this integral and important part of what I do.
So how did this specialization come to be? Why do I consciously seek out kids on the spectrum?
Like all good things in life, it begins with story.
My sibling is on the autism spectrum, has ADHD and lots of different letters or “labels” that were given to them early on in life. Long story short, they have a specific way of being and navigating in the world.
As their sibling, I witnessed their challenges in education and in life. I witnessed them being misunderstood, undervalued, unseen, unacknowledged, bullied and many times straight up ignored.
It wasn’t right.
In our family, it was just part of who we were. I knew what OT, therapy and stimming were from a very young age. It didn’t seem like a big deal, it just was.
There were challenges, but at a fundamental level it was just a fact of life. Not everyone fits in a box, not everyone learns the same way, lives the same way and most importantly, none of it is right or wrong - just different.
I had no clue how much of a gift that perspective was at the time.
As I aged, I slowly began to realize the realities of the outside world beyond our family. There was a deep lack of support and understanding for people who did not “fit the mold” of education and it played out in a negative way for my sibling.
I remember my mom throwing the paper at the TV when No Child Left Behind got passed. I then witnessed my sibling be very much left behind. Patterns like this left them and our family unit feeling isolated and misunderstood in many ways.
Experiences like this painted my childhood, my sibling’s whole life and shaped the way I exist in the world. I didn’t realize how much until I began teaching.
Not only did I feel a deep call to pay it forward to every kid, I felt a sacred responsibility to pay it forward to every young person with ASD or any diagnosis that crossed my path.
I vowed to be the teacher my sibling and our family had always needed. I committed to making sure every kid felt deeply seen, known and honored for exactly who they are and how they function.
“How do you speak to them like that?”
“How do you know that?”
“You just “get” my kid, how?”
“We’ve tried so many piano teachers, whatever you’re doing is amazing!”
These were the types of questions and comments I began to receive. Honestly, I didn’t fully know what I was doing at first! To me, it felt like breathing.
I knew my values and the space I was committed to holding. I was constantly learning about psychology in education and based on life experience, I had a deep well of love and understanding for these kids.
I can’t tell you how many times after a first piano lesson I would have a parent text me or give me that look at the door like, “Please come back!”
I would reassure them. “I’m not going anywhere, I’m on your team now.”
Through my now five years (how can that be!) of working 1:1 with young people on the spectrum or with any type of neurodiversity, I’ve witnessed amazing things in the space I commit to co-creating with my students.
The space I create with them that “People need to know” is this:
Mindful Music is a space for them to be deeply seen and known for who they are without any agenda to change them.
This is about who they are as a human - beyond any IEP or jumbled up combination of letters they’ve received. Whoever they are, whatever they’re feeling, however they learn, everything encapsulated in their present moment - Mindful Music is a space for them to be that.
This seems like a given and in our society, it’s not.
I gift this to my students each and every day. Communication style, pausing, breathing, dance parties, laughter, pressing ahead with gusto, these are all welcome and alive in the space. Most importantly I want them to feel and know they are welcome and understood as is.
Rather than trying to shift who people are to fit an idea of how things “should” go, I drop that paradigm entirely. I simply meet them as is and we create from there.
It’s truly difficult to fully express the value in this both from a growth, emotional and human perspective.
Mindful Music is a space for an emotional outlet and place to express themselves.
In our space my students express themselves through the emotional outlet of music. Depending on the student, this shows up in different ways.
A lot is through the songs they play and sing. It’s a way for them to share how they’re feeling and let it flow. Lessons are also a way to learn communication of emotions not only for themselves, but with other people.
I ask my students how they’re feeling and they express it back. My nonverbal students and I have a code or different musical way we communicate. All of the different ways are welcome and another outlet for them to simply be who they are.
Being on the spectrum or neurodiverse can be a frustrating and disheartening experience. Music is an outlet to express, flow, feel and simply be. To get to know the ins and outs of how they experience emotions.
Just like when I sit down at the piano to express myself at any moment, this serves a similar purpose for them.
Not only is this an emotional outlet, I’ve seen it show up as a meditative state for my students. I have one student who plays her scales on repeat for five minutes at a time and it soothes her. It’s an expression that she creates for herself and one she finds freedom and value in.
My sibling turns to music still as an adult as an outlet and vehicle of expression. It’s a path for people to connect with themselves and move through any experience on the vehicle of sound.
Mindful Music is a space to step into autonomy.
Have you heard me talk enough about autonomy yet?! The repetition truly represents the value it carries and in the instance of kids on the spectrum, its value sustains and increases.
Because kids on the spectrum have specific support needs, many times their autonomy is stripped away. Adults can “over support” or “overstep” or “control”. Many times, it’s unconsciously done or with good intentions. However, the detrimental effects are still created.
In the Mindful Music space, I preserve and revere the autonomy of my students. Regardless of the learning style or challenges of the young person, they know they always have choice and ownership over their learning environment, results and how they move through their projects.
It’s important for neurodiverse kids to know they have choice in their lives and that they can do things. They need to know they’re capable, resourceful, talented and can make decisions!
It just might show up in a different way for them. Not only do my students know this, I make sure they experience it. This mindfulness value is key and sets them up for success in all they do as they grow.
Keeping their autonomy is a huge part of Mindful Music! Just because they’re on the spectrum doesn’t mean they’re not at the helm of their own lives.
Mindful Music is a space for fun!
Life doesn't need to be a grind. We prioritize fun and engagement in the Mindful Music space! I mean, don’t you have more fun when you’re doing something you enjoy?
Bringing autonomy full circle - my students get to choose their songs. This is a source of fun and when they’ve chosen their project, they want to work on it!
We play games, have secret handshakes (even virtually) and do all sorts of fun activities while they are learning their pieces. Having this type of engagement is important for any human and I’ve seen it really help my neurodiverse students especially, soar.
Many times, there is so much blandness in an IEP. This is not the case in Mindful Music. We bring all the joy, all the colors and I even notice that they retain more when it’s experienced in a state of play.
Mindful Music is a space for sensory and fine motor mastery.
When one of my students with ASD began piano, she could barely hold a fork to eat. A few months later she was playing many different songs with both hands! This fine motor mastery echoed out to all parts of her life, including forks.
A parent of another student of mine with ASD lovingly called Mindful Music “undercover OT”. While I am not a certified music therapist, what I do at the piano in Mindful Music really hones in on sensory and fine motor mastery.
Gaining the awareness and conscious use of these aspects of living can be a challenge for many kids on the spectrum. Through Mindful Music, I’ve seen so many of my students expand and grow in these areas.
Whether it’s their fingers, ears or overall experience of music and sound in their body - I’ve seen how powerful piano lessons can be for these kids. It really is impact beyond the notes.
Mindful Music is a space for emotional intelligence and skill building.
Through Mindful Music kids on the spectrum expand their emotional intelligence, regulation and skill building.
When learning something new, overwhelming, challenging or maybe all three, emotional regulation, choice and expression are all big parts of the process. These are processes I hold space for my students to move through at the piano.
Rising through these challenges requires courage and awareness. Moving through big emotions with mindfulness is a skill. I’ve seen my students with ASD gain these qualities over time at the piano! Each person cultivates a process that works for them and how they operate.
When they see themselves do these processes over and over, they become a skillset. These up levels in emotional intelligence apply to skill building at the piano and give these young people the confidence to tackle challenges in other parts of their lives too.
They believe in themselves! This is huge in a world that consistently reminds them that they’re not in “the box”. Personally, I think life outside the box is cooler.
Maybe better put, the box that is YOU is not just cooler, it’s real.
Dear Parent of a Kid with ASD/Neurodiversity,
What do you, as my sibling says, “people need to know”?
Your kid matters.
I deeply care about letting your kid be who they are and letting their genius flourish.
In Mindful Music, they get to be seen and known exactly as is.
I see you. As a sibling of someone with ASD, I understand the struggles of the journey.
Mindful Music is a place for them to have a lot of fun at the piano while they also gain life skills of mindfulness.
Mindful Music goes far beyond just music and really addresses their specific needs.
It’s ok to talk about it.
You get to have the support you need for your kid and family.
Casting the Vision
I have a vision where what I do and how I do it is not a rarity. It’s the norm. Where every kid, with ASD, neurodiverse, neurotypical, every single being that walks the earth gets to be who they are and flourish from there.
Until then I’ll keep holding space, seeking out those with ASD or neurodiversity, and celebrating them in their expansion at the piano. I'll keep seeking opportunities to share my philosophy with other teachers to create a movement.
“People need to know” that these challenges exist.
“People need to know” that this way of being is not only possible, it’s important.
“People need to know” that I create these containers for these people on purpose to hold them high.
And now, you know.
If you or someone in your life is interested in Mindful Music piano lessons for a young person with ASD or neurodiversity, please reach out to me here! I would love to hold space for them to be who they are and thrive at the piano.
And if you’re a music teacher who wants to learn how to hold an empowered, loving and mindful space for your students - let’s connect! One of my passions is equipping educators with the tools of Mindful Music and be ripples of the movement. Reach out through my contact page or book a resonance call with me here to learn about my coaching for teachers.
Thank you for reading my three-part blog series, Teaching is Art. If you missed the others - go to my blog page and give them a read. I truly believe in the Art of my ebb and flow custom space holding experience I create in real time for single every person I get to serve.
Did you learn something? Did it inspire you?
I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections!
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
How are you treating the kids in your life and being part of their solution?
How are you treating the kid within yourself?
Go forth and do good things! Today and every day.
In love, truth and pursuit of a better world,