Hi, I’m Jeff Owens, an Autistic person who is trying to make sense of the world and my place in it. I like to help other people …
In Sync - connecting with the disabled
I got my Autistic diagnosis late last year as an older adult. Many years prior I was a piano teacher with my own piano studio. I had many types of students, from beginners to advanced and I taught both young and old. Two of my younger students had disabilities. One was an Autistic boy I’ll call Steven and the other a blind girl I’ll call Olivia. I had an immediate connection with both students. We just seemed to be in sync. I had never taught anyone with a disability before, but I seemed to intuitively know how best to go about teaching them. Looking back at it now I realize that my own Autistic communication system was somehow in sync with both of theirs.
In Sync with Steven
I always knew when Steven had arrived at our home for his lesson because I’d hear ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong…knock-knock-knock-knock at the door. I’d welcome Steven and his Mother into our home and after catching up for a bit, Steven and I would head to the piano. Steven was a lot of fun to teach. He could speak, but a lot of his speech consisted of cartoon phrases he had learned from television.
Oh well, back to the drawing board!
For instance, if he made a mistake while playing a piece he might say, “Oh well, back to the drawing board.” or, “That’s despicable!”. Steven always played with great accuracy because of his musical ear and ability to memorize his pieces quickly. He would first listen to me play a new piece for him and then we would begin working on it together. At the end of each lesson we would play his favorite musical game which consisted of me playing chords on the piano for him to identify by ear. He would instantly tell me if a chord was major, minor, diminished, or augmented and would use the correct technical term when identifying them.
In Sync with Olivia
I would drive over to Olivia’s house each week for her piano lesson. She would greet me at the door eager for the lesson to begin. I always brought with me a recording I had prepared for her to use for that weeks practice. I recorded any new songs for her to listen to with instructions on how to practice them. She would lead me to the piano where we would begin. Olivia had an amazing ear and memory. She would rock back and forth on the piano bench as she played through her pieces with great musical understanding. She also enjoyed composing her own music. Sometimes she had written lyrics for her composition and would sing along while she played for me. I would always encourage her to compose more.
Connecting with the Disabled
I now believe my own neurodivergent mind found it quite easy to communicate with Steven and Olivia because we are on the same wavelength. The latest research has borne this out. When neurodivergent people communicate there are no issues, it is only when a neurotypical person and a neurodivergent person talk, that issues seem to arise.