Learning Disabilities in Students

Edited: July 5, 2023, 2:45 PM · Editing to clarify, due to a puzzling amount of misunderstandings: *I have never attempted to diagnose any neurological conditions in students; I have simply remarked on their progress or behavior, and in some unusual cases, this led to the parents seeking advice from a physician who then gave them a formal diagnosis and treatment*

(original post):

An experience I had today made me want to bring this subject up. Essentially, after a few months of teaching a new student and going through every possible variable, I concluded that the student was learning at a significantly slower rate than average, and emailed the parent to inform them of my findings. It's always been my policy to let people know how they or their child is progressing, if it's outside of the norm (whether on the high side or the lower side).

*Note that the parent attended most lessons, but didn't seem to notice/care that her daughter was not able to make some rather simple connections

Part of the reason I do this is because many parents don't realize that their child needs extra help until a teacher actually mentions that they're having trouble. Although I'm a violin teacher and not a school teacher, my observations about students in the past have led, in some cases, to the parent seeking a formal diagnosis and then getting proper treatment. Some parents are too busy working to notice that their child is falling behind, and so I see it as a teacher's responsibility to be up-front about this. Generally, people don't take this information personally, and appreciate my insights.

But today, in response to my email, the parent gave me a very passive aggressive response, saying that a "good teacher wouldn't give up after a few months", that they would definitely be discontinuing lessons with me, and instead seeking a "teacher who is compassionate."

Keep in mind, I never said I wouldn't teach their child anymore. I said that I just wanted them to know the correct expectations, and that it may also be worth experimenting with different art forms that don't require such a high level of focus as violin does (the girl's attention wander ever few seconds or so, and thus she can't play rhythms correctly, since her sense of time becomes very non-linear).

She also said she disagreed with my assessment, and thought her daughter was "doing *great*", despite her profession not being music/teaching, and having no actual reference points. However, she did admit that her daughter indeed has learning disabilities, but she said they had no obligation to disclose those to me, since "other teachers never needed to know."

(another edit here: I never asked/hinted about a learning disability, but simply remarked on the daughter's attention wandering every few seconds)


So, my questions for this topic are as such:

1) Should parents let teachers know about learning disabilities ahead of time? And if they don't, should they have the right to get upset when the teacher inevitably brings it up later on down the road?

2) Should teachers pretend everything is fine, even if the student is making nearly no progress despite every effort from both the student and the teacher? Or should they be honest about sub-par progress? (obviously, I don't mean discussing this in front of the student)

3) Is it somewhat toxic to promote an attitude of "everyone can do everything," as opposed to accepting that certain people have specific limitations, and would actually have a much better chance of thriving if they tried something less challenging, or more fitting to their particular neurology?

Replies (25)

July 4, 2023, 8:21 PM · 1. I think that it's helpful for teachers to know what they're dealing with, but parents may have the perspective that a child will be treated differently (in a negative way) if they have (or are perceived to have) either a learning difference, some form of neurodiversity (such as ADHD), or some kind of diagnosed physical difference (like the kind that might be getting addressed with OT).

2. I think teachers should be clear about whether a student is making expected progress or not, especially if the fit between teacher and student isn't great.

3. I think it's perfectly reasonable to point out when something about an individual may make something unusually easy or unusually difficult. I think there are graceful ways to convey this that are less likely to cause offense, but it's likely a tense subject.

I do want to point out that the "specific limitations" are often to be considered things like "a late start" or even in some quarters "the wrong race" (or "the wrong culture", i.e. "this isn't the music of your people").

I let my son's teachers know up front that he has ADHD, so that they can adapt accordingly. I also know, from many of those teachers (across various fields), that many parents react badly to a teacher telling them they've observed behaviors associated with ADHD -- whether their child has an existing diagnosis or not! They are generally pretty grateful to be told up front and to be informed that as parents we'll work with them as necessary to deal with it.

Edited: July 4, 2023, 8:43 PM · Doesn’t it really depends on what goals have been expressed? I understand wanting to set expectations if, for example, you think they’re hoping for a professional career that you suspect is out of reach, but all of this:

“certain people have specific limitations, and would actually have a much better chance of thriving if they tried something less challenging, or more fitting to their particular neurology”

doesn’t really sound like it necessarily needs to be applied to people who are perhaps just hoping to enjoy whatever level they’re able to achieve.

I don’t think learning disabilities are something to “admit” to, and I (not a teacher) also don’t think they had any obligation to disclose that.

I guess overall I would hope that many teachers in your situation with this student would focus on helping the student enjoy what she plays, whatever that is, and maybe to consider how much they need to volunteer information to the parents if they didn’t ask for it. Perhaps it’s different if you’re in the high-pressure world of child musicians (I don’t know, but I‘ve certainly heard some stories), but it seems like the student is really the one you need to develop a good teaching relationship with, and her hopes for herself are the most important. I would absolutely be honest (kindly) with her, keeping in mind what you know of her goals. Volunteering info to her parents could have bad repercussions, for example she might lose trust in you herself.

Overall, it sounds like a really upsetting situation and something to learn from for sure. Good luck!

July 4, 2023, 8:45 PM · Lydia:

You said: "but parents may have the perspective that a child will be treated differently"
Yes, but the teacher is going to find out sooner or later anyways. If the teacher was going to reject that student due to knowing about a disability, was that really the teacher you wanted for your child anyways? I can't see how attempting to veil the truth helps the child in any way.

(I know you're just mentioning other parents' potential feelings, and not your own, but I wanted to address the idea nonetheless)

You also said: "I also know, from many of those teachers (across various fields), that many parents react badly to a teacher telling them they've observed behaviors associated with ADHD"


Perhaps I'd have to be a parent to relate to this. I never understood why parents get upset when teachers are honest about their child's behavior....why do some people prefer to stay in the dark about this? Isn't it better to know?

As a side note, I can definitely say that, as a teacher (particularly a teacher of *beginners*), I immensely appreciate as much info upfront about a student as possible. And I've never turned down a student due to being told ahead of time about a disability. (so parents reading this, PLEASE tell your teachers as much info as possible!)

July 4, 2023, 9:50 PM · I think it is absolutely critical that parents disclose not only learning disabilities, but as much information as possible to a teacher about learning styles and personality traits. Obviously, the teacher will figure most of it out eventually, but it saves a whole lot of time if you can have an open dialogue about these things.

I will say, though, that the younger the child, the more hypersensitive and in denial the parents may be. They also may not have figured out their own kid yet.

My kids' music school actually sends out written (typed) semester progress reports to every student. It's a standard form with comments completed by the teacher. I find this quite valuable and highly suggest it. Perhaps knowing this is part of the process for every student can help smooth out parents who otherwise would be feeling confronted.

Teachers should not pretend everything is fine when it isn't, but they should also take into account the goals of the lessons (ie serious versus just having fun learning a few tunes).

Neither of my string playing kids has a disability (though my oldest had severe disabilities), but they are still quirky in their own ways. I still communicate a ton about my perceptions of their known assets and difficulties, and it has definitely improved everything. Having said that, not everybody has a teacher like my kids' teacher, who texts with me multiple times most days and puts a lot of effort into making sure she understands the whole context of her students' lives.

For example, this year my 13yo had a really rough year, both for musical and nonmusical reasons. It was critical to convey this to her teacher so she could gear lessons better toward a student who at the moment is having a ton of difficulty feeling good about her playing. On the other hand, it was equally helpful to convey the difficulties my son has with "adulting" -- he can literally play anything on the violin but will spend three hours writing a two-line email reply, for example.

The moral of the story is the more communication the better. I think if you are upfront from the very beginning about asking the parent to communicate strengths and weaknesses, with or without labels, that that may help. I also think that periodic scheduled evaluations, whether monthly, quarterly, or annually, can help keep everybody on the same page.

Edited: July 5, 2023, 7:12 AM · I "fired" a young (cello) student who seemed to become frustrated by his lack of progress, but only after discussing it with his parents. He switched to double bass lessons and last time I saw him he was playing it in a student orchestra.

Sometimes a different instrument is a better fit.

If making music is important to an individual there are many different ways to do it. Violin may be the most difficult.

July 5, 2023, 7:16 AM · This seems to be a delicate subject as it might be prone to misunderstandings.
The parents, like these did, might understand "your daughter is too dumb for me to teach" or "I am getting fed up with teaching such a dumb student". Or they might feel pressured to pressure the daughter to become "good enough for the teacher to continue".
Also, I don't know how much you know about learning disabilities but there could be various reasons to be slower than other students. The child could not have been prepared for the experience, not yet know how to focus on music lessons, could be physically overwhelmed, not have an idea what she can achieve and thus only play around half-heartedly, could pressure herself too much etc.

If I were you, I would take care to let the parents know what I want to convey, without room for interpretation, i.e. state during the conversation that of course I will go on teaching their daughter, that being slow is no problem in my lessons, that I am prepared to teach her in a way that she will progress and have fun at violin playing but that I wanted to let them know my assessment in case they want to take this up with teachers or doctors.

My brother had Down Syndrome and no formal education, his attention span in everything apart form shallow TV series etc. was extremely short. When he was around 25, he took up music lessons after an open house event of my music school. I attended those lessons, too, together with my father. They were structured in a way that he first go to try several instruments, piano and then mostly percussion and was given simple exercises (no music reading, no songs). Unfortunately, due to an accident and injury, they only lasted about 2 months (he couldn't walk well after that and could't get up the stairs to the school).
He was very attentive, focused, took care to do exactly as told and in the last lesson, he was allowed to use the drums as he pleased and presented us with somewhat of a jam-session! He had an extremely well-devellopped sense of rhythm and keeping time, something it took me more that two years to grasp after I took up the violin as an adult!
On the other hand, he couldn't read, had no sense of numbers higher than about 20 and could not grasp concepts such as "capitol" (as in "is Berlin the capitol of Germany or vice versa?" He had not reference for that question. Where is the difference between a city, a county and a country was nothing he would be able to learn.)

So, I would be careful with such an assessment if I had not studied learning disabilities in detail.

Also, telling parents and possibly through them, the student that the student is much slower than others might discourage the student and convey they message of a "failure", someone who was not worth teaching and would never learn.
If someone takes 2 years to learn what others take 2 months to learn, it might still be worth teaching her, still be worthwhile for her to learn - but if they were told as much, they might give up in despair.

I would maybe ask the parents if the student is motivated, has fun playing, if they have specific goals, if everybody if fine with the student progressing in the current speed.

Some students really, really need a lot of time and then suddenly "get it" and progress quicker.

Also, I have seen with my brother, "disability" does not always mean "being slower in everything". There were many aspects in his abilities that surprised us, things we would not have believed he could grasp or even master. I believe this is the case with most people - they can often do much more that others believe them to be capable of!

If I had a child that could not progress past Suziki book 1, but had clearly fun at lessons, I would want the teacher to continue to give that child exercises and simple songs to practice until either the child wanted to quit herself of might progress into book 2 even if only after 4 years or so. The child would certainly learn a lot, even if it could not keep up with students of her age group who had started at the same age.

There are so many things we might take up as adults in which we might be bad or slow and STILL want to continue. But being told so might often lead to dropping the hobby in shame or despair. That would be too sad for everyone who doesn't have that Amy-Chua-mindset of only taking up things we can excel in.

Edited: July 5, 2023, 8:19 AM · Very, very thoughtful observations and discussions by all.

Obviously, this is an extremely sensitive issue. As a clinical psychologist (including 2 books on academic underachievement, years as a psychologist for a pediatric practice, director of a university counseling center, counselor and diagnostician), I have several reactions to this discussion thread.

First of all, this is indeed an extremely sensitive issue, and all of the advice above has its value, depending upon the people and the situation.

I would point out that although teachers (of any kind) obviously have a wealth of experience dealing with a wide range of student problems, a professional diagnosis should be up to professionals to formally diagnose this kind of problem. As a teacher, one has a great deal of insight and experience, but it may not always be practical for a teacher to make a formal diagnosis that should be in the hands of an appropriately professional specialist.

I think that a major difficulty in an issue like this is that in each individual situation, no matter what the "diagnosed" problem is and how the teacher, student, or parent perceive it is only half the problem.

The other half is that any formal diagnosis must take into consideration that ultimately no two people or situations are exactly alike. All of the many different and unique personalities, understandings, diagnoses, and situations discussed above can of course be taken into consideration, and each may be appropriate and helpful with some people and not with others.

In education, medicine, psychology (or other such professional disciplines), an overall diagnostic "label" is just a start. One must adapt one's communication and actions not only to a formal "diagnosis," but to the particular and unique perceptions, motivations, and understandings of the child and his or her parents.

As the above discussions indicate, this is rarely an easy or simple issue, especially considering that it often involves the ultimate direction a student's life may take.

So, thank you all for addressing this complex issue.

July 5, 2023, 8:39 AM · I don't see anywhere in the OP's post an attempt on his part to "formally" "diagnose" or "label" the student. He describes alerting the parents that the student's progress is slower than usual, presumably to begin a dialogue on how to proceed...
July 5, 2023, 10:55 AM · Disclaimer: I’m a parent of children with minor and with major disabilities, all of whom have or have had private music lessons.

In this scenario, based on the information provided, I would consider both parties somewhat at fault.
I think the OP has “somewhat” overstepped and the parent has “somewhat” overreacted.

It is important to provide information on the student’s progress: the parent is paying for a service and may not appreciate after years of expensive lessons that the student has barely learned anything. In that context, they probably cannot avoid making reference to what progress (or range of progress) they’d usually expect.

The teacher should also provide their own observations insofar as they relate to the students learning the violin: ie that it appears to them that the child has trouble focussing on their instructions or memorising rhythms or whatever it is that is holding them back, and ask for feedback on whether there is anything they can do to support the student.

You may also always ask a parent whether they (student and the parent) are happy with what the student is learning and how they’re progressing.

However, if a teacher then segues into “you may want to experiment with different art forms that don’t require as much focus”, a parent of a special needs child, who, believe me, has experienced a lot of rejection and exclusion regarding their child, will immediately understand this as code for “I don’t think your child should continue with the the violin and if they do, I don’t think I should be their teacher”. Because, frankly, what other way to interpret this is there? And if you are actually happy to continue teaching the child, that would have been the point to make that clear. That it is the child’s, and maybe the parent’s, frustration you’re worried about, not your own.

Because you are entitled to state your expectations, too. Just not to a show of appreciation from the parent for telling them how their child is falling short.

And it is absolutely overstepping to talk about (the OP isn’t quite clear whether they did, or just thought it) the child’s neurology or mention learning disabilities unless you’re actually the child’s neurologist. You expect the parent, who is not a music professional, to stay in their lane. Stay in yours.

So how was the parent at fault, too? As I said, it was the right thing to talk about the child’s slow progress, and what you have observed may be holding them back. On the other hand, while the parent is not required to “disclose” learning disabilities, I think they have a responsibility to make their expectations clear to you, because their expectations for “doing great” appear to differ from that of most parents. And they should be able to have an honest discussion about that. And they might have asked for clarification on whether you’d want to continue teaching the child or not. Clearly, they were offended that you thought they might not have noticed their child’s issues. But you couldn’t ear their minds.

My expectations for my child with major disabilities are very different from those for my other children. Never in a million years would I have expected them to take up the violin. I saw the neurological limitations clearly and the choice was between the recorder and the piano. Best friend wanted to play recorder, took so recorder it was.

Would I have tolerated my other children to never pick up their instrument for six months and refuse lessons too? No way. Did I understand that with two surgeries and chronic pain issues this child was simply too exhausted, and was I thrilled when they recently picked up the recorder again and consented to go back to lessons for the few weeks until school is out? You betcha. Do I think they are objectively “doing great”? I’m not stupid. Am I bursting with pride that they’re back to doing it at all? Hell yeah.

If you were truly happy to continue teaching the child if both parent and child are happy with the progress they are making, you could let them know and apologise for making them feel you weren’t. If you really aren’t because the lessons are too frustrating for you, that’s valid, too. They must be frustrating. It doesn’t mean you lack compassion, it means you are not the best fit as a teacher. But then the parents haven’t really overreacted, but have correctly gauged that. It then remains for you to extend the compassion you do have to them for not communicating well about this.

July 5, 2023, 2:39 PM · It seems there have been some misunderstandings based on my original post, so I just want to clarify:
1) I have *never* attempted to diagnose or even hinted at a specific diagnosis with students, nor have I ever commented on one's neurology. (thank you, Jocelyn, for noting this). However, I have made remarks about a student's behavior/progress, which then led to the parent going to a physician and getting a *formal* diagnosis.
2) In many other cases, these remarks simply led to us figuring out a better lesson plan. Point being: me remarking on the student's behavior/progress in an open and honest way generally leads to things going in the right direction, but, very rarely, can result in the parent getting mad at me. In my experience, the net effect of honesty has been at least 95% positive.

3) I have told people that I don't think violin is for them, but it was always in cases where they didn't enjoy it enough to get decent practice, and only if we had exhausted every possible option for improving that situation.

4) The only situations where I would bring up that a student is progressing "slower than normal" are ones where the student is in the bottom 10th percentile of learning speed (based on my vast experience with beginners and what they typically achieve with regular practice). If they take 6 months to complete Twinkle at the age of 8, I consider that to be very slow. (DISCLAIMER: this is 6 months with *regular, supervised practice*....obviously, tons of kids take 6 months, but it's because they're not practicing, or because they're much younger)

5) On my contact form on my website, I specifically say to "tell me as much information as possible about the student." I feel like this is their chance to let me know about anything out of the ordinary. So even if I don't specifically ask in the beginning about learning disabilities, I think it's somewhat implied in that contact form that any relevant info should be included.

6) Leonore, I do agree that I'm not the best fit as a teacher in this situation, and I probably could have communicated that better. The reality was that, leading up to this email, I had mentioned in nearly EVERY lesson (for months) that the daughter required more directly supervised practice sessions at home in order to thrive, and I wasn't really getting the impression that they understood the magnitude of what I was saying. I hinted and hinted to try to give them a chance to tell me more information on why progress wasn't happening, but they always skated around it. So when I finally sent the email, it's not as if it was "out of the blue." It was more that they forced me into being more direct, because they always gave me such vague responses during lessons as to why progress wasn't happening, even when I pressed for more information. Still, I admit I could have approached it better.

As I noted in my follow-up email though, I also struggle with my own issues (I have since I was young), and one of them is that I'm not great at "typical" social communications. I've gotten in trouble hundreds of times in my life for just saying what I meant, rather than weaving this complex web of weird white lies in order to get a point across. To this day, I still find it immensely frustrating and difficult to not just say what I mean. On one hand, I think this allows me to generally be a better teacher, because I'm able to be very direct and very specific. On the other hand, sometimes it gets me in trouble, because social norms (at least in the USA; I've heard it's different in France) dictate that you should never tell someone what you mean, but instead say the opposite of what you mean, and then gradually add truths to that lie over time.

July 5, 2023, 3:51 PM · The complexities of this topic and the complexities of teaching and learning the violin are because, I believe, that there are no such things as universal artistic absolutes or standard human beings. As Vince Lombardi (the famous football coach) once said: "We will chase perfection. While perfection cannot be attained, we will catch excellence."

July 5, 2023, 4:06 PM · Communication and observation are both very important for teaching. Although it may be good to ask a parent and or student about disabilities or their goal in studying the instrument, in many cases it can be somewhat obvious, making the conversation not strictly necessary.

If a student is in a lower level ensemble at most, it is reasonable to assume they aren't intending to attend an institution of higher learning majoring in that instrument.

If a student is progressing slowly, a teacher should ask themselves the consequences of that. In many cases there are few consequences.

None of this is to say that things should not be communicated to parents or the student, but given how charged these conversations can be, the teacher should use their discretion as to how to convey the information.

Sometimes the parents can see differences in progress in a group recital. Nothing need be said.

Slow progress, is just that, slow progress. For many of these students it is not a race. Let them learn and enjoy music.

July 5, 2023, 4:21 PM · While very true, Marcus, I do believe one can come up with an idea of what a 'standard' rate of progress looks like for a given subset of people, if the sample size is high enough, and making some basic assumptions about practice habits, etc...

Now, it's worth noting that while the *process* of progress looks different for everyone, the expected progress itself is often quite standard (in my experience).

For example, for a brand new beginner who is 8 years old, I generally spend 1-2 weeks to teach them decent bowing, 1-2 weeks to teach them left hand and combining simple left-hand movements with the bow (stuff like 0-1-2-3-2-1-0), and then give them their first song between 2-4 weeks after they start the violin.

Once they start their first song (usually the short(x4) long(x2)) variation of Twinkle (it's the "A" variation in Suzuki), it generally takes 1-2 weeks to pass that song. The next song I will give them is the "real" Twinkle, which should then take 1-2 weeks to pass with quality.

So, for an 8-year old to pass "real" Twinkle with quality, it *generally* takes 4-8 weeks from when they started the violin, ASSUMING regular practice at home, perhaps 20 minutes 5x per week, usually with a parent.

And from this initial 4-8 week period, I can then extrapolate what a most-likely scenario of progression will then look like for them going forward, assuming that they continue to practice regularly with a parent.

So, after roughly 8 weeks is usually when I start mentioning a basic "assessment" of what things might look in the future. If the student is already playing song #4 with quality at this time, I will mention that their progress is actually somewhat faster than standard, especially if they had no prior musical experience. If they haven't even passed the bowing stage after 8 weeks, I will usually mention that things are going a bit slower than is standard, but I'll usually follow this up with something optimistic (such as, I think we can push through this, but we might need to increase practice).

Anyways, my point here is that of course, there is no "standard human", and so the learning process looks vastly different from one student to another. That is why I am somewhat skeptical of closely following any one "method", because some students may need a vastly different approach than others.

BUT, due to the large sample size that I have of brand-new beginners (adults and children), I can't deny that there are trends in my data, and therefore I can get a basic idea of what a "normal" rate of progress might look like.

So, if an 8 year-old child is 6 months in, with regular practice, and still hasn't been able to effectively pass Twinkle, despite my best efforts to "think outside the box" and give them every chance to succeed, I feel it's my obligation -- both to myself and to the student -- to inform them that they're pretty far out of the norm of progress, and that we should reconsider whether or not it's something they think is worth continuing. And I tend to think of doing them a favor by doing this, because if I were the student/parent, I'd want to know if my rate of progress was much, much lower than standard.

July 5, 2023, 4:35 PM · Mark, you said this:

"Slow progress, is just that, slow progress. For many of these students it is not a race. Let them learn and enjoy music."

While I generally agree with this, there is a difference between a rate of progress which is slow, versus a rate of progress which is essentially non-existent.

A student cannot reasonably sustain enjoyment for something which they can't progress on. I used to just wait until things "fizzled out" with these students, but that feels disingenuous to me, because I kept taking their $$$, knowing that the student wasn't making enough progress to be able to sustain interest in the long term.

I also don't think it's polite to use student recitals as a way of letting the parent see the vast difference between their child and the others. For them, that could be a very embarrassing moment, one where they feel the teacher has betrayed them by not being honest before that point.

July 5, 2023, 8:25 PM · I would never intentionally put a student in an embarrassing situation in a recital. To perform, they would need to be competent in what they are playing and want to share that with others. Thus, they have something to be proud of about what they are doing.

Comparison is a difficult beast and can lead to all sorts of issues. It is usually best not to focus on it.

I read the ops post more carefully. He indicates that a student is essentially making no progress despite everyones best efforts. In that situation it is important to assess the student's goals. If the lessons fulfill them, then it is ok. If not, then that should be addressed with the parent.

July 5, 2023, 9:22 PM · Mark, you said:

"I would never intentionally put a student in an embarrassing situation in a recital. To perform, they would need to be competent in what they are playing and want to share that with others. Thus, they have something to be proud of about what they are doing."


See, the thing here is that the student may not *know* they're playing in an incompetent way. If they did, then they would be able to fix it. But we're talking about a student who is unable to assess the quality of their own playing. That means that you are left with 2 options:

1) Let the student embarrass themselves at the recital (although since they don't realize they're playing badly, they probably wouldn't be embarrassed).


2) Tell the student/parents at some point in advance of the recital that you don't think their quality of playing is high enough for them to bother playing at the recital.

Either way, the teacher is forced into an uncomfortable situation.

Edited: July 6, 2023, 1:03 PM · As Susan suggests, progress reports, but for the fee-paying parents, not the children. Maybe you could just make them numerical. (progress from 1 to 3 or 4, effort, interest, attentiveness, that kind of thing), so that there aren't words that can be misinterpreted or from which offence can be taken.

Otherwise, I speak as someone who has been on a music scholarship and can't imagine what it's like when music lessons are more akin to behaviour therapy or special needs teaching (this isn't the only forum I'm on where teachers have problems - on the other one a pupil took to turning the volume control on the teacher's electric piano with his tongue)

July 10, 2023, 5:54 AM · Well, I suffer from long-term depression, sequelae from a Traumatic Brain Injury, and music is one of the "cures" for it. It does mean I am somewhat hobbled - on the other hand, I am well aware that I can set up strategies to counter this.

As far as the "(or "the wrong culture", i.e. "this isn't the music of your people")." excuse goes, my cello teacher fostered a child from South East Asia for a half-year to give him some experience with the "Western" world. To honour a friendship that had helped me when I was young, I got some song scores from his country and gave them to her to give to him so he could learn them on his violin and make his parents proud. I feel that, if it ever came up, would be more of an excuse for laziness on the teacher's part, rather than any major problem.

If there is a neurodiversity "problem", or problems with neurological injury but the student wants to learn, it's an idea to get in touch with a knowledgeable neuropsychologist and work out a set of strategies to counter ancd overcome those. Because, believe you me, they work.

July 10, 2023, 5:04 PM · What I’ve learned over the years is that while having a formal diagnosis is helpful, at the end of the day, teachers work with the child, not with their diagnosis.

When the progress is not satisfactory, then it’s time to adjust how you teach. Some students do much better with medication but that’s between their parents and doctors. You cannot change or control the child but you can change or control your teaching environment. It’s much more efficient to focus on solving a specific problem than worrying that the child might or might not have a disability.

If the student’s attention span is truly only a few seconds then

July 11, 2023, 7:08 AM · Erik, I totally understand where you are coming from. I don't even think I have a helpful answer that you may not have considered yet, because you seem to have a lot of experience. I just wanted to say that I think it is a real issue with music teachers, but also a complex one that doesn't have an easy solution that will work for every student. You're doing good, and just the fact that you are reaching out for help says a lot about how you teach and ultimately want what's best for your students.

July 11, 2023, 4:45 PM · Thank you, Rebecca.

As an update, I met in person with the parent to clarify things (via my request, because I noted that it's too easy to misinterpret things over email/text).

Though it started off tense and I could tell she showed up somewhat ready to fight, it ended fairly well. She admitted that it probably would have been best to share more info early on, and I admitted that I should have been more clear in the beginning of my expectations as a teacher.

However, we both came to the same conclusion, which is that we will keep trying until the student themselves determines whether or not it's for them. If they're able to enjoy being stuck at one level of playing for long durations of time and the parents continue seeing that as a worthwhile use of their time and money, then I'm OK with it. As I noted to her, the important thing to me is that I'm honest from the outset. I don't want to be accused, 2 years later, of not mentioning the student's slow progress (this has happened before).

Edited: July 11, 2023, 5:32 PM · A great deal has been written here. I don't have much to add except:

(1) The topic is *so* sensitive that even telling a parent that their child is struggling to "pay attention" to their work in the studio might be off-putting because of the word "attention" which is the "A" in ADHD. You may have to choose your language even more carefully -- the student does not "remain connected" to their work as a possible alternative. But who can think of these things on the fly, especially if it's a real-time conversation?

(2) I can't shake the notion that a parent might sign their child up for something notoriously difficult like violin lessons in the hopes that ANY progress there will trickle down to more significant progress in the more mundane but mission-critical tasks of home life or public-school education. What prompts this thought was learning that the parent of Erik's student thought their child was doing great -- which of course means better than THEY expected.

July 11, 2023, 5:34 PM · Kiki's post ended with:
"If the student’s attention span is truly only a few seconds then "

That was priceless!
[I'm not being mean, it was just almost poetic...]

July 11, 2023, 5:44 PM · Elise, that's perfect.
July 13, 2023, 2:56 PM · Yes, I suffer from attention deficit dis... say, what's for lunch?

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