Down Syndrome student.

October 24, 2005 at 01:13 AM · Hi...

I have a difficult student, and I thought asking for advice might help.

He's a 10 year old boy with Down Syndrome. I just started him with the Suzuki method. He almost doesn't participate in the lesson, and won't accept anything I say that contradicts his school music teacher. I could barely get him to put the violin into rest position...

Has anyone every taught a Down Syndrome student? I'm going very slow (we just did red/blue feet on his foot chart) but does it just take a lot of time for him to trust that what I'm telling him is true?

Replies (17)

October 24, 2005 at 01:47 AM · Actually I don't feel I can give some really helpful advice, but in this situation the most important is your patience. Try to act the way your student become complitely trust you. Be natural in front of him, tell him some funny stories about your first starting violin classes. What mistakes you did (and show it on your instrument). Then ask him what he would improve if he would a teacher... and so on. Try to involve him to teaching process.

Anyway be aware that any new learning point will take for him a very long time (even it may take a year!). But all students like to do what they can do. If he can raise his arms, for example, start your class from this exercise and praise him. All kids like praising.

Good luck.

October 24, 2005 at 03:04 PM · I guess I can praise more.

I have even bribed with stickers (I have ALL kinds) "Today we are going to learn how to make a rabbit with our bow hand and sit it on the bow. I'll give you a rabbit sticker if you will do this with me" or something like that.

Last week I taught his mom a little how to hold the bow since he wouldn't. But I can't go on forever teaching his mom how to play. Taking it week by week seems ideal...

October 24, 2005 at 03:53 PM · Actually, teaching his mom how to play might be the most effective method of teaching him. When I started teaching, I had a couple of students where the parents studied along with them, and a couple of students where the parent was only involved by making them practice.

The students whose parents also learn to play make much, much better progress in general than those whose parents are uninvolved. For one thing, adults tend to learn more quickly at the beginning and will be able to catch and correct their child's mistakes even when you, the teacher, isn't present. They share the same frustrations as their child and better understand the whole process.

With this particular student, his mother certainly understands best how to motivate him and get him to accept new things. Having her more directly involved could be a real boon.

When I learned, my teacher required the parent to begin lessons along with the child. I now require the same thing.

October 24, 2005 at 04:50 PM · You have gotten some excellent suggestions so far (and I suspect you'll get more). You mention that this student won't do anything that contradicts his school music teacher. Many special needs children are not comfortable with change or new ideas or new people that alter their routines. Is there a possibility of contacting and working with that teacher, even minimally? (at least enough to "graft" some of the confidence the student may have in that teacher onto you).

October 24, 2005 at 04:49 PM · I suggest you contact a teacher from an area school/hospital who works with special needs children. They may be able to give you some really good advice on working with Downs syndrome specifically. But please don't think you are going to be able to teach him just like all your other students because he is not like your other students. If you get background information on the abilities and limitations associated with this syndrome, I believe you and the student will have a much easier time understanding one another. The mother would also be a great source of info as I am sure she has special words or tricks she uses at home to prompt him on other areas of learning and it can't hurt to learn these yourself.

October 24, 2005 at 06:43 PM · Considering his public school teacher taught him that rest position is with the violin in playing position I suppose I have a small problem.

Thanks for the ideas-- I'll just continue to help his mom for now...and maybe he'll get jealous and want to join!

October 24, 2005 at 07:47 PM · Are you sure that is what she really told him or what he thinks she said? I cannot imagine any string teacher, no matter the skill level, mistaking rest position for play position. But a kid might.

October 24, 2005 at 11:31 PM · Well he insisted it was, no matter how gently I tried to coax him into another idea.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm complaining about my students. I believe that difficult students make you a better teacher, but I don't have much experience with difficult students!

October 25, 2005 at 12:41 AM · Catherine, I don't think anybody has said this yet, but I want to praise YOU for being willing to take on this student! It is such an encouragement to see a good teacher being willing to give a lesson slot to someone who most would say has "no potential" to learn to play "well." These children are so special and teaching them is so rewarding. Hard, but rewarding. You go!

October 25, 2005 at 01:06 AM · I'm in agreement with Jenna. A lot of people would shrug this student off. Great work in actually trying to help this individual learn.


October 25, 2005 at 01:06 AM · Bravo, Catherine,

and bravo Jenna,

and to everyone else who has responded to this situation.

As I said earlier, one characteristic of many special needs children is their difficulty in dealing with ANY kind of change. So keep that in mind.

Sandy Marcus

October 25, 2005 at 01:58 AM · I'm finding I agree with the Suzuki philosophy that "Every Child Can."

It may take a long time, but they can. I was just excited to have another person to teach, and I WANT to be a good teacher, so I'm always asking for advice and whatnot.

They're such angels in their lessons!

October 25, 2005 at 07:51 AM · Laurie wrote something very good and very relevant to the issue. She described A Suzuki teacher giving a lesson to an 18 year old student with Downs. I've searched and searched, but I can't find the entry. If someone else can find it, please let us know.

October 25, 2005 at 07:56 AM · I found it! Laurie's discussion of the subject was very good and very moving. I hope that you will read or re-read it at It is her blog entry dated June 17, 2005.

October 25, 2005 at 03:04 PM · Thanks Pauline!

October 25, 2005 at 05:40 PM · Hello Catherine,

Reading your thread really made me extremely happy, being not only a violin-student, but also mum to a 4 year old daughter with Down syndrome! You can't inmagine how important it is to have people like you, who are willing to look past the difficulties and have the bravery and patience to see the possibilities... So thank you for that!!! On topic: I strongly agree on Sarah's advice about asking his mother and/or special needs teachers for advice; they know this person best and will know what he responds to. In general, I can say that people with Down syndrome aren't strong verbally, but can learn better visually and though movement. (I'm sorry, I'm not a native English-speeker, I don't know the correct words, I hope you get my meaning...) Maybe that could help? (as in; not explaining with a lot of words, but letting him feel and hear an see how it works/sounds) And always remember that although people with DS can learn, it WILL take more time, so taking it day by day as you yourself suggested, is about the best advice you will get! Keep up the good work & spirit, compliments to you!


October 26, 2005 at 01:55 AM · I'll keep that in mind and provide some more visuals. Maybe drawing what I want him to do. A little diagram.

Thanks for the information...I'll talk less! heh.

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