Resources to Help Teach Students with Anxiety and ADHD

Edited: February 12, 2019, 10:05 PM · Hello, everyone. I am wondering if anyone knows of resources, or has insight/advice, on the ways a private music instructor can modify teaching methods to help students with anxiety disorders/ADHD to enjoy and get the most from lessons, and not to exacerbate their condition. These are hard workers and good students who wish to continue to play music beyond high school. To be clear, I am referring to an actual diagnosed anxiety disorder and/or ADHD, and not implying that the student just has a hard time concentrating or struggles with performance anxiety.
Thanks in advance!

Replies (11)

February 12, 2019, 10:26 PM · Not sure of any resources. I have a decent amount of experience with ADHD students, though. In my experience it has always been a "learn as you go" type of situation. Patience and low expectations were the best counters to most of the issues I encountered.

One of the methods I used was frequent breaks to give the student time to wander around and feed their desire to look at different things, and then to get back to the task at hand. I found it helpful to watch the student and to be able to tell when they were naturally starting to wander, and we'd just take a 30 second break when that happened. Trying to force an ADHD student to focus for a full 30-60 minutes without multiple breaks will be impossible.

Just know in advance that the efficiency of the lesson will never be what it would be with a more focused student. A 30 minute lesson may only have 10 productive minutes. Don't try to force more efficiency out of an ADHD student. Accept what it is.

What is the main thing you're having trouble with? In other words, why do you feel you need these resources? Are you hoping to squeeze more progress out of this student in a given amount of time? If that's the case, you might try multiple smaller lessons spread out through the week, rather than one big lesson weekly.

And what is the age? ADHD manifests very differently in a teen than in a child.

Edited: February 12, 2019, 10:42 PM · I have one particular student in mind who is an upperclassman in high school. He's been my student for several years, and I think I've managed to strike a balance between working on his music, and taking breaks (mostly just to chat about anything he feels like talking about). I definitely struggle knowing that he has very high potential that is somewhat compromised by not being able to focus more, but he seems to be getting what he wants from lessons in that regard. My bigger concern is that I'm aggravating his anxiety condition, as he has been cancelling more frequently due to "needing more time to be prepared" for his lesson, or expressing more often that he is having anxiety about his lessons. My method to address this is to try to make the goals and ways to achieve those goals very clear from week to week, so there's no surprise in what I'll ask to hear. I'm sensing, though, that this may not be helping.
Edited: February 12, 2019, 10:56 PM · Kelly,

In regards to lesson anxiety - if the set goals are indeed the problem, try setting smaller goals.

It'll take longer, but set a pair of phrases instead of an entire section.

I've found that with anxiety (especially the 'I can't go if I'm not ready' kind) it helps greatly to just reduce the expectation to them to a manageable level - even If they're technically capable of more.

I usually give weekly goals like this:
1. Work on measure 12-24 for next week; and if you have time:
2. Check out the rest of the section.

That way they have a very small bite to work on, but if they're feeling confident know that you're receptive and looking forward to working on the rest of the section.

The idea is to give them a spot they can really polish that won't take too long (8, 12, 16, etc measures compared to more) but also plant the idea that they should go on.

Results for me tend to be that they bring in those measures very well prepared and the rest of the section tends to be either serviceable or untouched. Both are acceptable as we can then move onto the next bit during the lesson.

In regards to ADHD it's too individual. You're already doing the general things that tend to help. Anything beyond that requires knowing the specific situation and the person in question - adhd presents in too many different ways, especially as we age.

February 13, 2019, 10:11 AM · As a child psychologist I treat young children with anxiety (also children with Autism or other disabilities and anxiety). I don't know if any of what I do applies for this older student and anxiety about lessons but in case it might: For kids afraid of making mistakes in school work we practice making mistakes on purpose (confering with the teacher) - what would happen? It may be useful to talk over with your student what would happen if he were unprepared, if he messed up dreadfully in a lesson, and so on. I also use alot of humor. I wonder if it could be useful to experiment with doing some of the TwoSetViolin Hillary Hahn stunts together like playing switching hands The idea is to increasingly feel, emotionally, less anxious about messing up, and a humor state is more or less the opposite of an anxious state This can also take away the dread, the 'what if' aspect (what if i sound terrible) as it guarantees one will sound terrible.
February 13, 2019, 1:36 PM · Karen’s background and promising suggestions serve to underscore the fact that Kelly will have to choose how far down the therapeutic road to travel. At some point you will have to draw a line between what you can reasonably expect of yourself as a teacher and the things which a therapist can provide.

Very successful strategies for anxiety are coming out of the various approaches that incorporate mindfulness practices and exposure exercises. Perhaps the parents can be approached about getting their son into a brief high-quality anxiety program. That will at least buy time in which to work with the attention issues (treatment for this also often involves mindfulness practices so there may even be some benefit bleedover.)

February 13, 2019, 1:44 PM · Yes agreed Andres, good points. And if a therapist is involved ultimately, getting the child and family permission to be in touch and collaborate may be very useful.
February 13, 2019, 2:43 PM · As someone with General Anxiety Disorder, OCD facial tics and ADHD it's a blessing that my teacher allows me moments to breathe and reflect before jumping around in the lesson. Sometimes,something as simple as deep breathing with violin and bow down at my sides, just clearing my head and getting out of that anxious state of mind makes all the difference in the world.

I don't know if it's possible, but maybe allow the lesson for this particular student to run a little over schedule. Knowing I have x amount of time to do x amount of work can cause my mind to explode with anxiety and a million other worries and thoughts. This should ease them through the lesson and allow them the time they need to focus.

Sometimes, I have stressful weeks where I'm unable to focus on practicing successfully and efficiently and yeah,cancellation crosses my mind, but my teacher doesn't really hold it against me if I'm like "hey sorry, I just didn't have enough time to work on that assignment". Then we might spend the lesson working on the basics or going through last week's assignment together.

Most of all just check periodically with the student. Asking things like, is this too much work? Would you like a second to clear your thoughts?

Best of luck to you and the student.

February 14, 2019, 3:07 AM · Another way to think about this kind of problem is that depending on the level of disorder a student has, you become more of a therapist than a violin teacher. At least, this has been what I've come to accept about the challenge of teaching students from all different backgrounds.

With some students, your ideal role is about 80% therapist, 20% teacher. And that's just how it is. It's up to you to decide if that role is acceptable for you.

February 14, 2019, 6:37 AM · Maybe a way to think of it is adapting the teaching to fit the individual student. How much and how to adapt, varying from how one normally teaches. Some kinds of alterations are very easy to do, giving a moment here and there, checking in more, other variations may be more of a stretch or harder to figure out. It may be that knowing what kind of difficulty in the student would benefit from what sort of change or accomodation in teaching would be useful.
February 14, 2019, 1:13 PM · There is no simple solution to ADDiot training. Dedicate yourself, train yourself, arm your heart and mind with strategies and tactics before you need them, so YOU are ready when your learners need you to be. Once you start making connections with your learners, word gets around. You'll be overwhelmed with ADDiots and enjoy the affective joys the bring to those who seek out their creativities, dedications, etc.

As a single parent, I raised 3 kids, their grandmother, and myself, all have ADHD, the real thing, not that lack of parenting or parents addicted to Adderall or Ritalin. Pretty much, facilitating learners with real ADHD pretty much is as easy as meeting their needs as determined by the way they are. Even before I began teaching, several of my teachers noticed the change in my children's classroom behaviors and began calling me about the other kids they had in class. Usually, when a teacher described a behavior, I named the kid since I knew the kids through Scouts and youth sports. Therefore, when I started teaching, then counseling, I was quite effective with ADDiot learners. And no shame, I screen printed ADDiot t-shirts and fleece for those who really were.

After all, generally, properly supported learners with ADHD demonstrate the strongest dedication, creativity, determination. My son is an artist, his work requires a tremendous amount of prep work to look right, and he is considered one of the best in the world. Also, he has ADHD through the roof. Expect affective rewards.

Study Dr. Lynn Weiss. She is among the best at teaching facilitators to meet the needs of ADDiots, from preschool through adult. Especially with teens and adults. As you work through here books, you'll recognize your learners with ADHD. Arm yourself with knowledge BEFORE you need it.

A little practicing self control also works. I used to take my kids to the blood mobile with me during Ritalin rebound after school, and medical professionals who knew them were simply amazed at the self control my kids could demonstrate when necessary. Martial arts and periods of motionless and silence convinced the kids they could control.

Motionless silence began with a 5 second period. Gradually increase 5 seconds at a time until the child is successful at several minutes. Won't be long the kid will feel he or she can remain motionless and silent as long as he or she wants. A true ADDiot would then appreciate your recognizing how well he or she trained his or her self, and what he or she believes, he or she can do. This is a BIG DEAL to real ADDiots.

Offer the option of playing while standing. You'll find the rocking to the rhythm just about satisfies an ADDiot's need to move. I used to keep clipboards and assigned areas (tape boundaries on the floor) in my classroom. I always play standing, same reason. Expect learners to rock even when no music, as when you are speaking to them. "Eyes on me!" is pretty much all I needed to keep attention focused once learners realized permission to stand and rock was the norm for those who needed to in my classrooms.

I don't know which is more important, teaching an ADDiot he or she can, or recognizing him or her for the actually overcoming the challenge. Do both.

These ideas will get you started. Read a half dozen of Lynn Weiss' books. You'll see so much improvement in your relationships with real ADDiots, you'll read a half dozen more just to see where they go.

Edited: February 19, 2019, 10:05 PM · I supposedly have adhd, and some anxiety problems (a little). What works for me is: don't rush me. It's my time, not yours. I'm paying you.

A CLEAR PATH. Suzuki Book 1 provided that for me, but I"m not on Suzuki right now. However, when I was, my teacher then RUSHED THE HELL OUT OF ME, for her own needs. If I'm to be choosing something from a few different books, of which I choose when I get home, I go adrift very easily.

I'm not like other people. Listen to me and I'll tell you what I need. However, I"m an adult and know myself well. With a kid, might be a different story.

Oh, and concentrating for long stretches, and even shorter stretches, can wear my brain out and I"ll just space out.

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