Reviews

Book Review – Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism, by Barry M. Prizant, PhD

I recently finished reading the book Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism, written by Dr. Barry M. Prizant. It took me only a few days to “read” (I listened to the audiobook version) the whole thing, because I was enjoying it so much.

My motivation for searching out this book arose from a desire to better understand my current piano students who have autism. This was the book I settled on after searching on Amazon.com for a book on the topic that had excellent reviews.

This book did not disappoint.

The author, Dr. Barry Prizant, has decades of experience working with individuals with autism and is a leading expert in the field. He is a scholar, researcher, consultant, and an adjunct faculty at Brown University.

As Dr. Prizant explains in the book, autism therapy typically tends to focus on behavioral therapy — which means, getting rid of behaviors such as difficulties interacting socially, sensory challenges, and repetitive behavior patterns. Dr. Prizant points the way to a different approach instead. His book promotes the seeking of understanding individuals and what might be underlying their behaviors.

Rather than seeking to eliminate so-called “autistic behaviors”, Dr. Prizant advocates asking “why”. WHY is the person behaving this way? How can I better understand what might be causing the individual’s behavior, and how can I change MY behavior to help him or her?

“Most of the behaviors commonly labeled ‘autistic behaviors’ aren’t actually deficits at all. They’re strategies the person uses to feel better regulated emotionally.” –Barry M. Prizant

For example: For many individuals with autism, social situations can feel like a big mystery and be a cause anxiety. It can seem impossible, perhaps, to predict what others might do in social situations. And there are so many unwritten rules to follow.

Stress and anxiety can play out in various ways. The kinds of behaviors mentioned earlier are often coping mechanisms for staying emotionally regulated. It’s not unlike how many of us might tap our fingers or feet when we are impatient. If those behaviors can be recognized as signs of emotional deregulation, action can be taken to help the person regulate themselves — rather than attempting to “discipline” the person into “behaving better”.

“To help children with autism, we don’t need to change them or fix them. We need to work to understand them, and then change what we do.” –Barry M. Prizant

I appreciated that this book did not focus on surface-level tactics, and instead got at the underlying understanding of what autism is. One thing I learned immediately from my students with autism is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. My students with autism are quite different from each other. We all know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to students who do not have autism; so why would there be one for students who do? No two individuals have the same strengths or struggles. Before we can brainstorm strategies for working with a person with autism, we must understand the person and their unique strengths and struggles.

This book is full of perspectives (such as the one shared above), stories, and examples that will be helpful to parents, caregivers, teachers, or anyone with persons with autism in their lives. My eyes have been opened to better understand what autism is and what life is like for those who are daily impacted by autism. After reading the book, I feel more inspired and equipped to ask myself and my students “why” more often, in order to understand them more and find ways to be a better teacher for them. I highly recommend this book.

Learn more about this book on Amazon.com here, or see the audiobook version here.

Offer: Interested in trying out an Audible subscription? I love mine! I read far more books in a year thanks to Audible. Use my affiliate link to get your first month free.

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, Studio Business

The January Forum: What are your teaching goals for 2011?

Last month’s discussion forum brought out some great comments from you all! Most of you agreed that the teacher should play something on student recitals when possible, as long as the piece is not overly showy.

The dicussion topic for the January Forum:

Do you have any teaching goals for 2011? What changes or improvements would you like to make in your studio this year?  What other goals do you have for yourself or your students?

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reassess and set attainable goals.  Here are a few quick ideas just to get you brainstorming…

  • Improve the studio business end-0f-things.
  • Focus more on technique.
  • Focus more on functional skills.
  • Gain 5 more students.
  • Incorporate more interactive games/activities in the lesson.
  • Better communication with parents/students.
  • Tailor lessons to individual students more.
  • Get organized.

Good luck!

Photo Credit: somethingmarissa | CC 2.0

Forum Q&A's

The December Forum: Should the Teacher Perform at Studio Recitals?

Discussion topic for the December Forum:

At studio recitals, should the teacher perform a piece? Will it inspire students and will families enjoy hearing the teacher play?  Or will the students/families get the impression that the teacher is showing off and blowing the students’ performances out of the water?  What is your take on this issue?

Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo Credit: HenryStradford | CC 2.0

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Teaching Piano

Teaching Tip: Engaging the Emotions

I read something this week that mentioned in passing the benefit of engaging the emotions for learning.  This idea really stuck with me, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  It makes perfect sense, but I just never thought about it much before.  I think this idea is worth some consideration.

Neurologically, humans learn best when their emotions are engaged.  Various research has been done that suggests the benefit of learning when the emotions are engaged (see “For Further Reading” below).  An effective speaker will appeal to the listeners’ emotions in order to affect and influence them to agree with the points made, support the viewpoint, and maybe even motivate them to do something about it.  Similarly, an effective teacher will connect with the students’ emotions to make the student interested in the topic and motivated to learn.  When the emotions are engaged, the learning moment becomes both meaningful and memorable.

The art of music is very close to the heart and the emotions.  We music teachers are very fortunate!  And yet, how often do we encounter students who seldom practice?  How about unmotivated students who quit after just a few years?  And how often do we hear completely unemotional performances?  These things do happen, unfortunately.  We can help prevent this from happening.  Perhaps through engaging the emotions we can help students connect with the music and be interested/motivated. Continue reading “Teaching Tip: Engaging the Emotions”

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, repertoire / methods

SUMMARY | July Monthly Forum: Discussing Method Books

Here is the summary post for the July Monthly Forum: Discussing Method Books.  Thanks to those of you who shared your thoughts!

Your Thoughts

Allow me to summarize some of the main points that were made in the comments:

  • Choose a piano method that will give students (especially beginners) a strong foundation for the future and ensure success.
  • Choose a piano method that will suite each student’s interests and taste.
  • Choose a piano method that has “good” and “real” music.  (A couple of you made such references….perhaps this could be a launching point for further discussion: what does “good” or “real” music entail?)
  • Don’t necessarily use the same piano method for every student.
  • Be sure to supplement the method with books outside of the method, so that they are experiencing different types of repertoire.

Read all the comments for yourself here.

Your Favorites

You also shared some of your favorite piano methods in the comments.  Here are the ones that were mentioned:

  • “Play Piano Now!” from Alfred publishing – for adult beginners.
  • “Music Tree” – for creative and bright students; strong in theory.
  • Alfred Premier – for students ages 8-11; strong in theory.
  • Alfred Prep and Alfred Basic – for young beginner students (ages 4-8).
  • “Piano Adventures” by the Fabers – has imaginative pieces; encourages note-reading.

My Thoughts

My personal philosophy when it comes to piano methods is that there is no single piano method that is “the best” or that works for all students.  Every student learns differently and every student has various goals, interests, and tastes in music.  Therefore, the teacher must seek to find and use the piano method that will be best for each individual student.  It is important for teachers to become familiar with the various piano methods available so that they can choose the proper method for each student.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Evaluating Piano Methods: Continue reading “SUMMARY | July Monthly Forum: Discussing Method Books”