Frequently Ask Questions

What do I do when I have a student on the spectrum in my class?

  • Find out whether the student has an IEP or a 504 plan.  These documents contain information about the student's present levels of academic performance, measurable goals, benchmarks and objectives, assessment plan and other useful information.
  • Get help from general classroom teacher and special education teachers.
  • Consult with other music educators who have experience including students with ASD in the classroom.  If possible, observe how classes are conducted.
  • Communicate with the student's parent(s) or guardian.  They can often provide important insight into how to best work with the student.
  • Assess whether any physical arrangements or accommodations are required.
  • Determine whether any adaptation in teaching material or modification in curriculum is required.
  • Create, communicate, and document the assessment plan for the student.


What is an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

Each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document. The IEP creates an opportunity for teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate) to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.

For more information, refer to:

U.S. Department of Education: A Guide to Individualized Education Plan

Teaching Music to Students With Special Needs: A Label-Free Approach, 2nd Edition


What is a 504 plan?

Enacted in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act dealt mainly with providing job opportunities and training to disabled adults, though one paragraph specifically addressed public schools. This paragraph, known as "Section 504", focuses on non-discrimination. It prohibits denying participation in, or benefits of, public school programs to any child because of a child's disability.

Section 504 also requires the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE), including individually designed programs, for students who are eligible. "Appropriate" means an education comparable to the education provided to non-handicapped students. In order to receive accommodation under Section 504, a student does not need to receive special education services.

For more information, visit:

California Special Education Local Plan Areas

CA Department of Education, Northern California Diagnostic Center: What is Section 504?


Who creates the IEP or 504 plan for a student?

Generally, these plans are created by a team of school staff that may include a guidance counselor, special education teacher, general classroom teacher, school psychologist, administrator and parents or the student's guardian.


Where can I find teaching materials suitable for my student with ASD?

Check out Teaching Resources and Adaptation and Devices page.


Should my student with ASD participate in the recital or performance?

Many students with ASD can and have performed successfully in recitals. Prepare the student by explaining what a recital is, who will be there, what the student will do, and how. Visit the venue before the recital, preferably when there are not a lot of people, so the student can explore and learn the setting. On the day of the recital, it may be best to put the student in the early program. Dress in comfortable clothes and shoes. Some students may be sensitive to light; turn down the stage light if needed.


How do I find support from the school and other teachers?

The student's general classroom teacher and the special education teacher have the most knowledge and experience about a particular student.  Collaborate with them and solicit ideas and help.  Request their attendance or partial attendance if you deem it beneficial.


How do I find support from student's home?

Initiate contact with the student's parent, guardian or caretaker.  When possible, invite the primary taker to observe or help out in the class.  Communicate your plan and strategy and solicit help as necessary.


How do I prepare for teaching a student with autism?

Build up your knowledge and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder as part of your professional development. Read books, visit websites, talk to other music educators who have successful experience teaching students with autism.

Learn as much about the student as possible before meeting the student for the first lesson. Ask the parent(s) whether the student has an IEP or 504 Plan at school. If so and the parent(s) are willing to provide a copy, read the plans to understand the student's diagnosis, challenges, accommodations, etc. Talk to the parents or primary caretaker about the student's learning style, behavior, anything the teacher should know to help the student to learn and teacher to teach.


My student does not respond to me.

No response does not mean the student does not hear you. Try a simple instrument such as a percussion instrument that is not too loud or sharp. Beat simple rhythms and see what happenes. The student may respond by imitating. Use simple instructions.


My student seems distracted, cannot concentrate for more than a few minutes.

Fidget gadget. Minimize distractions in the classroom. Do not put many things there. Keep the walk clean without many pictures or posters.


My student is fascinated about something else than the music lesson and wants to talk about it all the time.

This may be a great way to gain rapport or trust to the student. Some students with ASD are passionate about certain things. Specify a time and duration when the student and you can talk about the special interest, e.g. spend 5 minutes before or after the class starts, or during the lesson break. Be sure to honor the arrangement always.


My student becomes frustrated easily.

Stay with one concept at a time and have short lessons. Structure your lessons and follow the same structure/order each time. Minimize changes as they can make students feel confused, uncomfortable and frustrated. Progress at a pace comfortable to the student. Modify curriculum depending on the student's response, interest, and learning outcome. Take frequent breaks, e.g. a 3-minute break every 10 minutes of lesson. Adjust as needed.