Classroom Strategies

Classroom Management

For a student with ASD, a structured classroom with a routine schedule and activities help the student to feel safe and reduce anxiety.[1] Students with ASD have difficulties adapting to changes in the routine. If a music teacher generally starts the class with vocal warm-up then sings from a music book, the student will expect the same for each music class. However, if one day the teacher brings in a guest teacher to do some Kodály activities, the student will be very confused and consequently, show resistance to participate or have a meltdown due to anxiety. It is very important that the music teacher manage the class by clearly setting class schedule, built an activity calendar and inform students about changes ahead of time.  However, if a change in plans is inevitable, the teacher must offer alternatives so that students have the options to choose what their preferred activities. 

It is also important to provide preferential seating for the student, for example, a seat closer to the teacher for the convenience of monitoring, away from distraction such as light and noise, with extra space for excessive movement, and closer to a quiet corner where the student can take a break before reaching sensory overload. Frequent changes to seat assignment or rotation are not recommended since the student will require adjustment each time his/her seat changes.

When the giving instructions to the student, music teachers are advised to simplify words and use “direct” approach, i.e. refrain from using abstract words or figures of speech as the student tend to take words in its literal meaning.[2] Whenever possible, the teacher should present materials in multiple formats, such as picture, spoken words, or an object that the student can see and touch. Sometimes it is helpful to assign a peer buddy who can assist with the student’s social engagement.

Some music teachers may have doubt about involving students with ASD in a stage performance.  However, there have been many successful cases of music teachers including students with ASD or other special needs in music, theatre, and other types of performance. The music teacher can establish a regular rehearsal routine and give specific instructions in order for the student to know exactly what to do. The music teacher may want to strategically place the student at the position where the student can choose to exit the stage without disrupting the performance if the student cannot wait for a break or the end of the performance. The student may decide to participate in one part of the program and not the entire program. The key is to remain flexible, include the student’s participation in performance as much as possible and feasible. 

Teaching Pedagogy

In her book, Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs, Hammel states three important concepts in teaching pedagogy to support students with ASD and other special needs: accommodation, adaptation, and modification.[3] Accommodation means to provide arrangements so that a student can learn at the same level as the other students in the classroom. Preferential seating is an example of accommodation.  The use of assistive technology to help students with reading, writing, and other class activities are also effective accommodation for students with different physical and or cognitive challenges. Adaptation means to design and to use instructional tools and materials based on their learning needs. For example, the music teacher can provide lyrics printed in large font, music notations with color coding, and remove extra information from the music score for easier reading. Modification means to use different curricular goals in order for the child to achieve at the highest possible level. For example, when performing a song, the teacher may have the student play the first note of each measure initially, then slowly add additional notes when the student gains proficiency. The teacher may also consider scaling down the requirements by defining reasonably attainable goals for the student’s learning level.  

Teacher training for teaching students with ASD and other learning disabilities is highly recommended for every music teacher. In recent years, researchers and educator have been discussing and promoting the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a set of principles that guides the design of curriculum to ensure equal access and effectiveness to learners of diverse learning styles.  The UDL framework started as curriculum building and teaching principles to be used for students with special needs. Researchers have shown that the UDL framework is equally effective for all learners. More and more states have adopted initiatives to incorporate UDL into their education standards for all students.[4] 


[1] Hammel, “Teaching Music to Students with Autism,” 69-85.

[2] Hammel, “Teaching Music to Students with Autism,” 31-50.

[3] Hammel, “Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs,” 83-85.

[4] “State And District Initiatives,” Students at the Center: Jobs for the Future, CAST, last accessed February 10, 2019.