When I was offered to teach piano to a student with a special need, I wasn’t entirely sure about it. I know it would be more difficult than teaching my other students, especially when I didn’t get any formal education about mental disorders. I got a lot of pedagogic theory and exercise in college, but I knew this would be something that’s totally different. So I dug more into that and talked to some friends who majored in psychology to get advices.
I met William, a 7 year old boy with autism, that day. He hugged me when his mum and older sister introduced me to him, although after that he went back to his previous activity: screaming and jumping, and then suddenly stopped to stare himself in the mirror. It’s been repeated at least 5 times. His mum never really confident about his ability. She believed that it would take years to teach him rhythm and notes, but she would like his son to try learning piano with me the next week, along with his sister.
The next Friday, I came with twice bigger patience tank and much lower expectation. When I entered his room, he was fighting with his sister, crying loudly that she didn’t give him more time to play with his phone. At one point he would fell to the ground and hit himself. Alright, I thought, it’s gonna be a tough day – he’s not in the mood.
So I started the lesson with her sister for 30 minutes while he was being cheered up and calmed down by his mum. He came back with frown so I started with a short story telling that apparently distracted him from the fight before. Every now and then he would jump out his chair so his sister and I would try to make him come back to the lesson. We had the very basic of piano lesson that day – about rhythm and fingers number. I wasn’t sure if he would remember anything I said in the next lesson.
Today I came back to his place, again, with double portion of patience tank. He couldn’t identify right hand and left hand, but he remembered the fingers number I taught him last week. We practiced, interrupted by his desire to stare at the mirror or run around the house. But one thing that amazed me is that he actually pays attention to everything I said. We could even finish 4 different easy finger exercises. I rewarded him with music to dance to and colouring time every time he finished the exercise. I gave him a warm hug and high five when we finished the lesson. He still couldn’t remember my name, but I felt a sense of accomplishment.
I drove home with different feeling, fulfilled with peace and satisfaction. He taught me a lesson about happiness, that happiness means to give. Happiness means to believe in yourself and in others, to be determined with what you are doing. And keep doing what you are passionate about.
See you next week, Will!