Understanding Students with Dyslexia

Ever since attending the fabulous MTNA workshop session, “The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in the Music Studio” by Beth Bauer and Scott Price, I have been more intrigued by and eager to learn about teaching students with disabilities. I have had students with various disabilities and learning difficulties over the years, but I have mostly learned by trial and error (and lots of helpful input from the parents!). I’m hoping now to make more of a concerted effort to educate myself so that I can more effectively work with special needs students in the future.

I was reading through the transcripts of a series of interviews with Susan Barton, founder of the Barton Reading and Spelling System, based on the Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method. Susan gives listeners/readers helpful tips for diagnosing dyslexia early on, and shares insights for working with those students. I love this observation that she makes:

“Children with dyslexia have a different brain structure. Their right hemisphere is actually larger than most people’s, and they have different nerve pathways in the language processing part of their brain. And I love to share with people that their right hemisphere is larger than most people’s, because it explains why they’re so gifted in skills controlled by the right side of their brain. So yes they struggle with reading, writing, spelling, but they’ll be better than their peers in either artistic ability, athletic ability, music, mechanical ability. Their people skills are outstanding. Superb three-dimensional visual-spatial skills, a vivid imagination, an incredibly accurate sense of intuition. And the most creative, global thinkers you’ve ever seen.”

I think it’s super exciting as a piano teacher to work with students like this and help them develop their musical talents! The important thing is not to box them into a traditional reading-based approach to learning to play piano, but to develop a method that taps into their innate musical strengths. This is one of the reasons why I am working a lot on developing my own improvisation skills and incorporating more music-making [sans reading] into each lesson.

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