Eye Tracking Study on Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) Users

Many piano students who are nonspeaking autistic (or for other neurological reasons), also have dyspraxia. I have dyspraxia (and I’m autistic). Dyspraxia is a neurological motor movement disorder. It is difficult to sustain the arm in playing position, and it is very difficult to play the notes as you want them. Just because you know the note, does not mean you can ‘prove’ that you are note-reading, due to the brain/body disconnect.

Thank you Vikram K. Jaswal, Allison Wayne, and Hudson Golino, for this landmark Eye Tracking study. “Users not only looked at and pointed to letters quickly and accurately even in lengthy responses, but patterns in their response times and visual fixations revealed planning and production processes suggesting that they were conveying their own thoughts.”

figure1

Participants wore eye-tracking glasses that provided a video record of their field of view and their right eye’s movements.

How much more research do we need to make communication accessible to all people? The continued bashing of facilitated communicated (FC) and Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) is ableist, classist, and absolute discrimination. It is a gross misjustice of power from the Ivory tower, heralded by the white men promoting #abatherapy. If we allow autistics to communicate their own thoughts, we will not be able to force them to comply with #aba (this is their panic).

If there is any single researcher who challenges the purposeful authorship of nonspeaking autistics who utilize AACs, please contact me. We will SILENCE those who have silenced us for so many years. Down with the patriarchy.

As educators, we must know that motor movement differences are at the core of productivity. Does your student’s joints collapse, do they have trouble with fingers twitching, arms being hyperextended, posture issues….and on and on? As pedagogues, it is incumbent upon us to find the most appropriate teaching modalities that supports the student in gaining confidence in their productivity.

The Perfect Perch™ -How can a simple plastic device help a person with dyspraxia or motor planning issues? Our current clinical trial includes autistic subjects, as well as cerebral palsy or post-stroke paralysis.

Imagine being nonspeaking, autistic, unable to toilet independently because your hands can’t grip your pants. Imagine sitting in a piano lesson where the teacher puts stickers everywhere, thinking that the student is simply not able to ‘cognitively’ process the lesson, because heck, they’re not showing you the ‘proof’. With this population, the proof is not in the pudding. The proof is in your pedagogy. I have been asked many times, “but why does perfect pitch matter?”. It matters because if you are familiar with my research, you will know that 97% of autistic people have perfect pitch (82% other disabilities, 52% of neurotypicals). With that said, having perfect pitch (you’re born with it) means that we MUST target what *is* intact, in order to activate purposeful motor movements.

If you have questions about this technique, please ask! I have somehow become a leading expert in the science of neuroplasticity, motor movement disorder, hand eye coordination, visual tracking anomalies, and resuntently, a pedagogy scientist. Let’s talk about why nonspeaking people should be considered for piano lessons just like everyone else.

Ban ABA Initiative

Autistic psychologist Henny Kupferstein, Ph.D. is taking names to push the #federal #banABA of #ABAtherapy in the United States.

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We are a 👨‍🔬👨‍💼👩‍🔧👩‍🎤🕵️‍♀️🧕👮‍♀️👩‍⚕️ rapidly growing movement ✌️ established after watching #cripcamp on #netflix.

💪 Join our private FB Group for ongoing discussion https://www.facebook.com/groups/federalbanaba

👂 Follow 👉Henny Kupferstein, Ph.D. for updates with the #BANaba hashtag 👈

If you have been cyberbullied by an autistic person, please join the Asking Dr. Henny 🏋🏻‍♀️ re: Cyberbullying Autistics facebook group.

To report inequality, please submit the Person or Entity information to our Single-Entry form. Your information must be obtained legally and from public domain.

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Who is a Token? A person from underrepresented groups recruited to give the appearance of equality within a workspace. Dr. Henny Kupferstein describes tokenism (Read top-10 flags) as a being invited to a panel discussion at a professional conference, but is asked not to share her autism research, and to contribute exclusively on the basis of her autisticness.

Who is an apologists? A person or entity who will reassert in ever more emphatic and defensive language what most of their audience already takes on faith, by framing the issue as a choice between anecdotes and hard science. An apologist makes futile attempts to fill a psychological void, to make up for genuine needs that are not being met. Guilt, shame, or remorse are feelings that are veiled behind apologist rhetoric.

Who is a Behaviorist? The application of radical behaviorism—known as applied behavior analysis (#ABAtherapy)—is used in a variety of contexts, including applied animal behavior, organizational behavior management, and treatment of mental disorders. Autistic people are injured by forced compliance when the treatment is for a condition that they do not see as disordered. A behaviorist uses language that implies a correction or modification of a trait that they have deemed as maladaptive to the human norm. The behaviorist will entice the buy-in of the parent to choose these treatments by naming the goals that are otherwise achieved by non-autistics by merit of their natural growth and development (i.e. surely you want him to go potty, and surely you want him to speak one day, and graduate high-school?).

Who is an autism hero? A parent who calls themselves a warrior, and claims to be combatting, conquering, winning at a war they declared. This war on autism stems from pandemic rhetoric, ‘this is autism’ campaign about violence and aggression, and anti-vaxers who are convinced their child was injured. Aggression and self-harm is not part of the medical autism diagnosis, and meets the criteria of severe PTSD. A child who develops their existential identity in their formative years will be heavily influenced by compliance training, ‘special’ barriers to equal opportunities at education, and societal influence of being surrounded by their deficits in their everyday world. An autism hero is a person who announces their struggles with their daily battles of combating their child’s will and compromising the autistic’s progress toward moral identity development while under duress.

Bump Dots, So Flappy!

My bump dots arrived and I’m jazzed that my confidence around my independent living skills have soared. Many autistic people have a hearing impairment such as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), hyperacusis, and misophonia. Autistic people also have vision impairments ranging from cortical vision impairment (CVI), simultanagnosia, double vision, and distortions. Lastly, the autistic motor movement impairments are neurological, but not every autistic person is properly assessed for dyspraxia or dystonia. Rather, they end up with a diagnosis of low muscle tone, poor fine motor skills, and motor planning problems. I am one of the rare lucky ones to also have Balint Syndrome, and I know the odds. I’m a spectacular zebra unicorn to western medicine practitioners. 

 

Mixed Bump Dots, Mixed Sizes and Colors - 80 Count

Mixed Bump Dots, Mixed Sizes and Colors – 80 Count

Bump Dots, Yay!

Mixed Bump Dots are ideal for low vision, and autistic sensory deprivation and processing disorders. These Bump Dots allow a variety of uses from tactile marking of everyday items such as computer keyboards, telephone keypads, multiple switches, and kitchenware. Low vision labelers are perfect for homes or offices with both blind and sighted people. Use the clear dots so the view of keypad displays are not obscured. I got my Mixed Bump Dots, Mixed Sizes and Colors – 80 Count all the way from the Amazon.

bump dots on my microwave keypad

bump dots on my microwave keypad – click to enlarge and zoom in

Matching Bump Dot Selections to Tasks Requirements

  • I used a clear medium sized dot to place on the Power button on the microwave so others can also find it. The dot is not only clear and shows the text it sits on, but it also somehow magnifies!
  • I used a small red dot on the Start button on the bottom right. This was tricky because I didn’t want to cover the text on the button, but the button requires the dot to be squarely in the center in order to word as a pressing function.
  • I used a medium clear dot on the number 2 of the number pad. It magnifies and is perfect for sharing the microwave with sighted people.

Motor Planning

In this arrangement, I first find the power dot with my index finger, and then find the #2 dot with my middle finger. I can then imagine the rest of the numbers relative to the 2. Finally, I scoot down to the start button with my pinkie, and my job is done. My hand stays in the exact position on the keyboard throughout the task, and builds motor memory for the future.

What are you using bump dots for? Please share!

My Autistic Fractals in the 4th Dimension of Consciousness

In UNIPAZ, Brasilia, I had the honor of presenting my lived experience to a class of transpersonal psychology students. In my presentation, I demonstrate how my eyes sees objects as conceptual fractals from within the 4th dimension of consciousness. You may notice some gaps in the talking. This video has been edited to remove the Portuguese translation provided in realtime by Alfredo. 

English transcription of presentation at UNIPAZ, Brazil:

Being in the United States diagnosed as autistic, provided me a really nice fancy package to understand my differences. But the more I understood myself, the more I was witnessing the trauma of those who did not have the privilege of this identity. As you are going through transformation in your education, you are experiencing an evolution of your own identity. That is a privilege that you now have, because you can choose this process. 

The autistic child is under identity threat all the time. They enter the world with genetic memory and skills that cannot be explained. I can explain it in language that is accessible to the mainstream. I made it my mission to become an academic student and to use theories of transpersonal psychology to explain what people cannot observe. When we say, “autistic people are deficient” in this, that, or that, we are using traditional metrics to put people into a box of comprehension. 

Hypothetically, if my eyeballs work differently than your eyeballs, this is what the world looks like to me. I’m looking outside the window at the tree. 

The nautilus is a mathematical shape. Where does it begin, and where does it end? So, just for aesthetic purposes, I will begin from the center, because I like my lines to be clean. 

So this is the traditional nautilus shape that you see if you’re interested in this stuff. The more you stare at it, the more distortions begin to take shape. Perhaps in the first second that you looked at it, it appeared one dimensional. I believe that the brain has a 3-second time-lapse of perception, and after 3 seconds, you may start noticing a second dimension. So after three seconds, you may notice a 2-dimensional shape.

The moment you have a third dimension, it becomes obvious because you now have to have a negotiation in your brain, if the nautilus shape begins at the tip, or the center. This negotiation is your fourth dimension. 

My eyes give me a perceptual sphere that begins in the 4th dimension, and then I have to do a negotiation to dissect the components. Here is my fourth dimension. My eyes see a grid on an axis, but I don’t see all of the boxes simultaneously.

Every three seconds, the boxes change—and I will show you. 

So perhaps in the first three seconds, I receive A3, A4, C3. Inside A3, A4, C3, I have to make a picture-puzzle, which is this. 

But I wait three seconds, and now I have this. 

So, this might look like abstract art, but my work is very deep and very meaningful. Because not only do I have the privilege of doing these negotiations, I also have the privilege of taking every cube, and going into the fractal of its meaning. So although you see the nautilus as a potential fractal, I perceive my world primarily as existing perceptually in the negotiation space of creativity, where I can hold the multitudes simultaneously and it becomes irrelevant on that material dimension. I say material because that is my baseline, because that is my normal, and in that beautiful place, it becomes irrelevant to me whether the nautilus begins in the middle or at the end. 

Therefore I challenge the traditional explanation of moving up or coming down, because I believe that autistic people have access to the potential of thoughts and concepts from the interstitial space, the space between the one and the one. It’s the space that is the beginning of everything in the future. 

So if you’re asking an autistic child in the classroom to do reading comprehension and he says “oh look it’s a beautiful bird,” then in the United States we say “you’re stupid, you have to go to the special class” and we rob the child of the opportunity to gather information in a setting that is considered normal. So the autistic child learns to derive pleasure from the paranormal.

I call this the party in my head and I only share it with people that feel safe to me because my worldview exists of objects which are also fractals which are also fractals, and fractal objects that have infinite possibilities of perception. I can do that with observing children in a classroom and knowing immediately the depth and breadth of their existence. I can do this by reading multiple research papers and finding a connection. When I do data analysis it feels to me like a synthesis of deeply meaningful symbols.

Many researchers like to share their work but they don’t derive pleasure from doing the mundane mathematical work. So I want more people to be envious of the pleasurable experiences that I have and to eliminate the stigma of difference by recognizing that the child who has a revelation in his creativity, this is the child who is not having deficiencies that can be defined by the non-autistic person. It’s only the autistic child himself who can describe how he perceives his deficiencies.

The privilege I have with transpersonal psychology is to use scientific terms to provide meaning and to make meaning of my existence. But I don’t intend for my work or my research, I don’t intend to colonize the experience of other autistic people with my worldview. If there’s somebody who wants to identify with deficiency, I can accept that. if you want to say that you have a sister who suffers from lesbianism, that’s okay. If you want to say this is a person living with autism, that’s okay. 

For me to have an identity to feel like something normal, I have to be allowed to say I am autistic. I have been able to feel like my experience is indigenous to me, so all my work that I do takes the position of liberating my experience from the medical pathology paradigm and moving through it, not up or down to it, so that other people can make meaning of my experience. 

So I want to invite you as you are encountering people who are severely other than you, remember that they come at you from the fourth dimension and in  your social encounter you have an opportunity to play creatively and create something new together. And that is called transcendence.

Thank you so much.


You may notice some gaps in the talking. This video has been edited to remove the Portuguese translation provided in realtime by Alfredo. 

 

 

Kodi Lee Wins, Parents Asking About Piano Lessons for Autistic Students

He’s got perfect pitch. He is 22, and sings with a rasp and vibrato through that last high note. Kodi’s piano accompaniment shows off technical precision that stole my heart. 

Kodi Lee just won the 2019 America's Got Talent competition

Kodi Lee won the 2019 America’s Got Talent competition

He’s also blind and autistic, and Kodi Lee just won the 2019 America’s Got Talent competition, and I WAS THERE IN HOLLYWOOD TO SEE IT! #heckyeah

Henny Kupferstein with Kodi Lee’s piano teacher YiYi Ku, at America’s Got Talent finals

Autistic people have talent, and nearly all autistic people have perfect pitch (read my research study). Autistic musical savants like myself want to be recognized for musical talent, the practice time we devote to showcasing perfection, and the music theory training that helps us fit in to a group of quality musicians, because we are usually the strongest one in the room

Kodi’s win made parents and teachers think about autistic talent, and now everyone wants piano lessons for their autistic child. 

Autistic's Got Talent (fake pose)

All my piano students are autistic. Every autistic piano student should have equal access to the arts, whether they are nonverbal, blind, or poor motor skills. We can all do it, because we have the gift. But do all piano teachers have the gift to teach? 

Current research is critical to work with a demographic that is misunderstood by mainstream education. Those who put together homegrown curriculum and color-basedprograms are truly demonstrating incompetent teaching skills. Teaching down to the diagnosis is a form of discrimination, and parents need to learn how to recognize a poor teacher-student relationship.

How to Know if Your Autistic Child’s Piano Teacher Is Trained for the Job

  1. The teacher will begin the lessons even if the student does not have an appropriate instrument in their home
  2. The teacher plays all assignments for the student, and then teaches by rote
  3. The teacher assigns scales and flashcard work for home practice
  4. The teacher does not hold a 4-year music degree from a nationally accredited institution.
  5. The teacher focuses on correcting posture and finger shape more times than the student is playing during the lesson.
  6. The teacher’s rates are below market rate for professional services in your region
  7. The teacher refuses to teach online (skype/facetime) to accommodate the student
  8. The teacher uses “student with autism” or “definitely has a spectrum disorder” language without regard for the prevailing preference of autistic people to be called primarily “autistic”
  9. The teacher talks slow, loud, and with vocabulary that feels infantilizing.
  10. The teacher is not autistic, and therefore, cannot serve as a positive role model. 

Thankfully, I’ve done the work for you! 

Henny Kupferstein posing with a fake Hollywood star

Piano teachers looking for an evidence-based piano pedagogy, read about my professional training program for LDME™ Training – Developmental Music Education™ Training  to  become a licensed developmental music educator®

Research Study about autism and perfect pitch: Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2016). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures, 72(7-8), 390-405. [PDF]

Parents who want to learn more about piano lessons for autistic and nonverbal students using a method that guarantees these goals through neuroplastic changes, BOOK A CONSULT and let’s set a time to talk.

Popular Articles:

  1. Why Piano Lessons for My Autistic Child? Top 10 Questions Answered by Autistic Piano Teacher
  2. Before You Pay for Piano Lessons: Little Johnny’s Bill of Rights
  3. Concern: Skype Piano Lessons Will Never Work for My Autistic Child Because…

Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) and AACs for nonspeaking autistics

RPM is a method for teaching academics to non verbal and autistic students, which may lead to independent typing.  Many of my piano students use RPM during the lesson and to support their schooling. HALO is a non-profit organization providing RPM, which is academic instruction leading towards communication for persons with autism. Soma Mukhopadhyay developed Rapid Prompting Method to teach her own son Tito who is a published writer despite his autism. HALO’s clinic in Austin, Texas is where she conducts 1:1 Soma® RPM education and training. 

Resources

Watch the movie from my https://hennyk.com/resources/ page: 

Then, see the videos on Soma’s page http://www.halo-soma.org 

Online Support

Is it OCD or Autistic Perseveration? Setting the Record Straight

People are very quick to assign labels to behaviors. When an autistic person insists on correcting your grammar, it may feel like they are shaming you. When an autistic person insists that you have taken the wrong road to get to the ice cream store, you may feel like they are calling you stupid. Knowing the source of these expressions helps the bystander coexist with the autistic person. For autistics, knowing that the world is becoming less hostile and safer for them to express their thoughts, is necessary for healthy identity.

Negative perceptions of the self are formed when people tell you to stop. Stop talking. Stop lecturing. Stop flapping. Stop covering your ears. Stop reciting pi. Stop, stop, stop. These are weapons used by neurotypicals to enforce societal norms by oppressing the autistic way of being. When the autistic persists, they call it a mental illness. They must label it because any other explanation is inconceivable.

We are told that we are rude. We are annoying. We persistently set the record straight. We should not correct others. We should not tell them that the plural of syllabus is syllabi. We should simply sit with all that information and hold it in. Like a sneeze that is threatened to exist. If you hold your nostrils, maybe it won’t escape. If you stuff your mouth with a sock and also hold your nostrils, there is a chance that you can bring on just the exact amount of internalized oppression to make this sneeze implode inside.

When you do sneeze anything, you are perceived as a social misfits. Bloggers call us fussy brats. Authors refer to us as having ADD/ADHD because we live in the tangent of our own creations, to the exclusion of the input of those around us. Being referred to as annoying, uncaring of the input of others, or persistently insisting on our ways of being, takes a toll on the mental health of the autistic person.

 

How OCD is different from Autism

OCD is an obsessive compulsion to repeat a task, or to be involved with a matter.  It becomes a disorder when the person is unable to withhold from completing the task. The lead-up to the task (checking the stove, locking the door) is rife with a pre-sneeze panic. It must come out. You must sneeze. Involuntary functions are aroused rather than paralyzed. It simply bursts forth like the sneeze that popped after you smelled a bunch of lillies. The person becomes more and more anxious as they repeat the task.  Trying to ignore or stop your obsessions increases your distress and anxiety, and despite efforts to ignore the urges, they keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior, and the vicious cycle of OCD.

Autistic people operate with a radically different neurological setup. The structural anatomy of autistic brains are nearly indistinguishable from typical brains. However, the neurons fire up and move through pathways that result in a dramatically different worldview. A person with synesthesia is not mentally ill if they hear a number as a color. They are not having hallucinations, but rather, experiencing a multisensory perception to a single stimulus. These perceptions are very exciting for autistic people, and quite pleasing. The autistic person is happier the more they engage in their perseverations. The person who has OCD becomes more anxious as they try to resolve their compulsions.

Engaging in the party in my head is my choice. I maintain the right to speak of the unicorns and the cats dressed in tuxedos. I maintain the right to recite pi until my pet gecko’s stares at me judgingly. You are looking at my happy place as the primary source of annoyance to you. It is not an obsessive compulsion to annoy you. I am simply enjoying the happiness that exists within my personal and private consciousness reality. When I am kind enough to share and hope to bring you into my party, you fail to grasp it. You don’t see the beautiful patterns, the philosophical ponderings, the way the undiscovered colors dazzle my mind. You are struggling, and that is okay. But please don’t put the burden onto me for carrying your challenges.

Meet Nico: The Autistic Teen Who Talks with Piano Fingers

This video was directed by Nicolas Joncour, a pianist and university student in France. Nico spells to communicate. He shared his message about nonspeaking autistics and what he wants the world to understand. Click for captions, or full transcript below:

I was born in October 1999 in France, a country that was not ready for me. I resembled my maternal grandpa, and my personality was like my father. I don’t remember much from when I was a baby, but I remember books. I read books in my bedroom. By reading, I learned a lot.  I had musical notes in my head since I was born. I think I have antennas on my head for music!

“GUITAR” was my first word, but I had to wait until my third birthday until I got my first guitar. When my family sings Happy Birthday, it feels like a jackhammer to my head. But the electric candle from the cake had a pleasant happy birthday song, which was more exciting.

In school, when I was 3, the teacher understood that something was different about me about me, even though the family doctor did not notice anything.  I was 9 years old when I realized that I was not like everyone else everyone else around me. I felt different and knew I was autistic. From that age on, people called me out for being autistic.

The Shoah Holocaust Memorial in Paris was of great interest to me. Most people were surprised that I was the one asking to attend. “How could this 10-year-old understand the story?”–they wondered.  

I was 12 when we adopted a dog from the shelter in Fougères and brought her home to Rennes. I chose the name Fourenne for her to combine the names of both towns. She knows that I love her but I can’t play with her–it’s hard.

Today at the university, it is different than my schooldays. This is because I am recognized as a student, just like all my peers. I describe my personality as reliable, you can count on me, honest, and a high defender of justice. But when strangers first see me, they usually think I am stupid, deaf, and can’t understand what they are saying.

I can’t control the sounds that I make. I do try to control it and to make less noise. It is very difficult for me to learn to play the piano, but when I play an instrument, I decide what gesture I want to make. I am in control. I calculate in my brain to successfully move from one key to another. When I do math, I can feel my body. Playing piano gives me the ability to be the master of my spirit.

Henny: Nico,  if science fiction would make it possible for autistic people to use math in their heads to control speech, do you think we should ask people to do math to feel their mouth?

It would be great to realize that, to make it possible. I would like to speak. I love Math. I wish language would be as easy as mathematics.

And do you think that we should push autistic people to use speech?

I want to talk, to speak, but not by way of force or pressure. It would be like forcing my mom to speak with a lot of people and being social in a large crowd.  Mom: “It’s horrible, it’s a torture”.

A really bad key or a wrong note played is like a knife on the brain! It is very painful. But when people see me playing a wrong key, they think I cannot read the notes.

They must understand that I have no capacity to control my gestures and movement. They should have a different opinion, but the problem is, that I can’t force them! Teachers of young autistic children must understand that we are clever, we can learn. Parents should understand that we are real people on the inside.

In ten years from now, my dream is to be the pope! I want to be the pope for people who are oppressed–people who have no education. In ten months from now, I just want to pass my exams.

I want the world to look like you, Henny.

Thank you, Nico!

Concern: Skype Piano Lessons Will Never Work for My Autistic Child Because…

I only teach piano to nonspeaking and autistic students. All the lessons are online through Skype or FaceTime, even for families who live locally nearby. This helps me reach students all over the world and in underserviced areas. The format is a 1:1 personalized lesson, not a class taught to more than one student. Oftentime, parents will worry about the online format, given their child’s history of requiring hands-on support or in-person prompting. Other parents often remark that they are unsure if the iPad would be a distraction during the lesson. Lastly, many parents wonder how the lesson proceeds if the student runs off or steps away from the instrument. Please read: Why Piano Lessons for My Autistic Child? Top 10 Questions Answered by Autistic Piano Teacher. Here are some frequently asked questions to dispel some fears about the online structure.  

Sensory

  • Your child will also do better if I am in their learning space without being in their physical face.
  • Driving in rush hour traffic and reorienting to the teacher’s house and the smell of her dinner cooking may be too much for one day.
  • Having a lesson in the comfort of your home is optimal where the sensory accommodations are already established.
  • I am autistic too and I arrange my environment to accommodate my sensory needs. Once organized, I am able to be fully focused on the teaching. I can’t have people in my space while I teach.

Physical

  • Mother providing hand-over-hand support to nonverbal autistic piano student with dyspraxia

    Dogs and pets are welcome, if that’s what the student likes. I even teach turtles, cockatoos and Darth Vader.

  • It is important that the room be arranged with everything comforting. All efforts should be made to turn the piano lesson room into a safe space.
  • Some students require upper core support, so experimenting with lumbar-support chair or office chair may be helpful.
  • Arms should be like the capital letter L extending to the piano. However, many students spend the first year with elbow and shoulder support, rendering their hands in the T-Rex position. The awkward posture helps build proprioception in the fingers, which are the farthest point to receive motor signals. As the fine motor skills become reliable, the hands lower into the L posture and support is faded.
  • Some students sit with pretzel legs, one knee up to the chin, or on swiveling chairs. All postural adjustments are encouraged and discussed to enhance accuracy of the finger movement.
  • If the child utilizes larger sensory tools, keep (for example) their trampoline and bouncing balls nearby. The student may utilize anything they need to redirect their body to the piano during the lesson.
  • If the student runs off or rolls on the floor, I don’t consider that a “behavior problem”. Parents should never drag the child back to the piano, bribe them, or threaten with a punishment. Rather, I encourage the student to return to the piano using a variety of tools that I have taught them.

Visual

  • From my observation, almost every student so far has displayed a photographic memory. They will take a quick peripheral glance of the material and almost never refer back to the page for visual prompts. Instead, they are ‘reading’ from their heads.
  • The student is not required to “look” at me. This means that the device is set off to the side where I can see their profile while seated at the piano. I do not allow parents to prompt “look at the book!” or “look at Miss Henny!”
  • If I require the student to use their eyes in any way, I will instruct them on the best strategies to accommodate their visual depletion rates and perceptual differences.  
  • Students with visual impairment, cortical, TBI, or congenital, are encouraged to consider learning to play from written music. Accommodations are made to enlarge the music, use clamp-on magnifiers, colored overlay filters, and a referral to an Irlen diagnostician. At this time, I am not skilled to teach braille note-reading.

Auditory

  • Piano student wearing noise-cancelling headphones during lesson

    It’s quite alright if the student covers their ears or wears noise-cancelling headphones. These devices are designed to silence the disrupting surround sound and filter only the dominant sound they wish to hear, which is the piano.

  • Students may appear to be bothered by the sound distortions to my voice on the iPad. The volume may be lowered, we can try to call again with a better connection, or complete the lesson using a smaller device (cellphone).
  • I almost never play on my piano together with the student because our pianos are very likely in different tuning. I use the classical guitar to accompany the student. I slide my fingers to adjust to your tuning, rather than making the student adjust to mine. With the nylon strings, it is a warm and pleasing non-metal sound which is quickly an instant favorite for many.
  • You will notice that I NEVER repeat any instructions and speak in age appropriate language. I don’t require that the student appear to be actively listening in a manner that has been determined as appropriate by others. Rather, I keep teaching knowing that he can hear me from any point in the house.

Accommodation

  • student foot on pianoSome students are bothered by seeing themselves on the screen. For the first few weeks, they find it helpful to cover my face onscreen with a post-it note.
  • A post-it note can also be used to hide the notification bar and charge percentage, which distracts many students.
  • Sensory stim toys are encouraged, so please do keep your string and straw collection nearby! I’ll show the student my collection and encourage the use of all available tools to organize the physical body.
  • When there is a siren or airplane on my end, I will press mute on my computer.
  • Students who wear hearing aids or cochlear implants may remove them if the sound is distorted or overwhelming. We learn to feel our way around the instrument and listen for vibrations to correct the notes when playing.
  • Vocal stimming and all stimming is ignored. It doesn’t bother me and I continue to teach.
  • Crying or screaming is a non-issue for me, but it is discussed to learn more about the triggers. These triggers are resolved with an agreed upon accommodation, and the lesson continues.
  • Students may be dressed, in their underwear, or wearing anything that is comforting to them. I am not perturbed by students who suddenly strip.

Literacy

  • Parents sometimes insist that their child “can’t” or “doesn’t” read yet. A student does not have to prove that he can read in order to be able to read. Many students are hyperlexic and have an early ability to read without ever being taught. I presume competence until otherwise proven.
  • During the lesson, I will sing the lyrics of the song rather than the note names. This encourages the student’s eyes to hunt for the next note to play based on where he’s up to in the song. The parent may observe that he is reading and finding his way through the book.
  • I also ask students to sing the lyrics of a song. I prompt by speaking the lyrics first, and then have them play and sing. This offers the learning opportunity for pre-readers to learn phonetic skills on the fly, and piece reading concepts together almost instantly. Within 3-4 weeks, students are often literate above their age level.

Communication

  • Student is spelling on a RPM laminated letterboard to communicate during the lesson

    All types of communication is welcome. However, I have a strong preference for families to already be experienced in the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) and/or Facilitated Communication (FC).

  • Please have the AAC device on hand for communication during the lesson.  
  • I never ask a question and demand an answer, spelled, spoken, or signed. I presume competence and ask instead: “Which one is that starting note? Show me on piano”.
  • The piano becomes the instrument to demonstrate knowledge much like the letterboard is a tool to spell a response.
  • I am knowledgeable in basic American Sign Language and do try to sign while I speak to build fluency.

Social

  • Parent often request an assignment to play for grandma, or family Thanksgiving party, or for a school talent show. These requests are challenging to the student’s progress. They are a tease to what the student may want to do but may not be technically ready to do at that point in time. Playing piano publicly as a form of socialization is truly the highest compliment to your child’s training. However, please allow me to direct the pace and type of socialization.
  • Oftentimes during the second year of instruction, I will recommend that a family visit their local church and obtain permission to sit in the back while the choir rehearses. At that point, the student is ready to not only follow along on the sheet music, but they are skilled in solfege and sight-singing. It is delightful when the perfect pitch musician from the back of the room begins to sing without a pitch prompt, while most choristers are waiting for the note from the pianist.
  • Other socialization options are offered as time goes by and connections are made in your local and broader musical community.
  • The student and their family are informed when they are ready to join a band, orchestra, choir, or audition for colleges.

Learning

  • Your child’s learning style will be actively assessed in the first year. How they take in information, how they process and produce may be very different.
  • After the assessment, I will ask the student to rearrange their learning and productivity around their strengths. Sometimes a parent will insist “but my child needs a visual aid” or “can you just play it for them so they know what it sounds like?” I don’t teach in the traditional manner where supplemental supports are offered. Rather, the student is encouraged to use strengths from within to flourish.
  • It is my goal to build an independent musician who can demonstrate their talents on any piano from anyone’s music, without colored stickers, highlighters, and adaptive tools.

Emotional

  • I no longer teach students who have been exposed to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) interventions. The forced compliance and normalization takes a heavy toll on the child’s psyche. They become prompt dependent and wait for instructions to complete a task. I don’t offer ABA styled instruction in the lesson, nor do I allow parents to use ABA language during the lesson, such as “After piano, you will get MineCraft time”.
  • The lessons will be most successful if a healthy student-teacher relationship has occurred in the past. If every student-teacher encounter has resulted in trauma, I will be perceived as a threat. This would require the lessons to be hijacked by the emotional needs and relationship building, and little learning will take place.
  • Students who are homeschooled or unschooled may not consider me to have anything to offer to them, as they are accustomed to pace their learning based on their strengths rather than a class schedule. This is a positive and I work to build that learning relationship, but there may be lots of resistance at first.
  • Sometimes a student is having a rough day. We pause the learning and discuss it. It is not conducive for anyone to be forced to learn when there are other things going on. Sometimes a mere acknowledgement of their disposition is enough to get back on track without derailing the entire lesson.

Music Teachers — Learn the evidence-based method and teach piano to autistic students. Qualified piano teachers and senior-year music majors are eligible to enroll in the Doogri Institute training program. Click to learn more and inquire about your own professional training, and how to become a licensed Developmental Music Educator™ (LDME).

Please read: Why Piano Lessons for My Autistic Child? Top 10 Questions Answered by Autistic Piano Teacher.

 

Generalizing Standards for Autism Sensory Rooms

Not all sensory rooms are alike. When autistic people think of sensory rooms, they imagine a room designed for sensory deprivation for calming effects. When designers imagine sensory rooms, they try to cram in as much sensory information to satisfy all assumed criteria. Autistic people have preferences that vary so much, that sensory integration disorder was removed from the DSM-5. The reasoning was that if a there is no way to standardize an assessment for these differences, then there is no way to make a diagnosis, and then treat it.

Autistic people still have these sensory issues, even if the DSM no longer recognizes it. Sensory issues are prevalent in every type of neurodevelopmental disorder, such as ADHD, Angelman syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and Cerebral Palsy. All around the world, schools, retail chains, and airport, are all trying hard to accommodate these sensory issues. The most important thing for these designers to know is that even when they consult with one or two autistic people, they still are probably lacking on specific fundamentals based on a generalized whole.

Sensory “issues” stem from a neurological processing difference. Some autistics have heightened sensory perceptions, where the world is more vivid and noisy than to a neurotypical person. Other autistics have low perceptions, and can seem indifferent to the world around them. Professionals working with autistics must know about sensory variations.

There can be hyper-responsive (sensory seeking), hypo-responsive (avoiding), and rapid cycling between both variations. It’s critical to know that these exist, because otherwise, autistics might find themselves being led to a sensory room with blaring lava lamps and strobe lights in the name of accommodation, and find themselves triggered to the point of subclinical seizures. Yet again, some autistics will find such arrangements delightful, and it may be hard to wrestle them away from these stimuli.

It is imperative that designs should incorporate the actual need of autistics, and not per the idea of the funders of the project. When designs are ill-fitted to the need, we have industrial faux pas where toilet paper rolls are hung inside a shower door, or a 5-point harness is designed for a carseat by someone who has never had to put a child into a vehicle. These lived experiences are essential for avoiding awkward and injurious innovations that are counterintuitive and termed “design fails”.

 

When evaluating a sensory profile of an autistic person, check for the following:

  1. Look at their food choices. Do they prefer crispy-crunchy, or mushy-smooth? Do they prefer their foods to touch, or be strictly separated?
  2. Check their sleeping quarters. Do they like to have a popup tent, pillow fort, and weighted blankets? Do they sleep with their feet exposed, or undressed? Do they have trouble sleeping and toss/turn all night and wake up tired?
  3. Do they cover their ears to shield themselves from all sounds, some sounds, or human language sounds?
  4. Do they enjoy events in large venues, such as concerts? Do they take great effort to avoid gatherings of any kind?
  5. Can their eyes track on a screen when watching a movie or playing a video game? Are they using peripheral vision and muscle memory when writing, typing, or watching a ballgame?

The first is a sensory profile built on olfactory and tactile systems, since the mouth may feel assaulted by food stimuli which are not amenable to its schema. The second is an indication of arousal state, and how the individual prefers to wind down. The third is how the individual interacts with sound—less/silence is enough, or louder is heard better? The fourth is how the multisensory stimuli of sight and sound create a vortex around the person based on the acoustics of an outside space. Much like a room gets warmer when there are more people, the sound and lights will amplify in amplitude toward the autistic in the room. The fifth is how visual information is perceived with the least amount of fragmentation, as the central vision may take on too much information, or in bits, in conflict with a figure-ground extraction from a gestalt.

Once the sensory profile of the individual is identified, a sensory room can be planned to serve a particular set of needs. No single room should be organized to meet all types of sensory profiles, and rather, areas should be cordoned off for different needs. There may be a dark roo, with sound-reduction panels, and weighted items to use while adjusting the glow and color of the recessed lighting through remote control. There may be a lava lamp garden with customizable colors, since neon colors may cause a strobe effect on those who are sensitive to fluorescent rays. There might be a tactile room with nubby textured toys, stimmy balls, plastic grass mats, and rock or string collections. There should certainly be a room with acoustic music instruments, and an invitation to interact with others using this artistic medium. Start speaking to #actuallyautistic people, so your efforts don’t get lost in translation. All humans have a right to sensory safety and to prevent sensory violations.

 

Kaegan – Nonverbal perfect pitch piano matching test

Kaegan (21) is able to demonstrate perfect pitch during his 3rd piano lesson, thanks to the piano matching test. Did you know that 97% of autistic people have perfect pitch? (Kupferstein & Walsh, 2015). One obvious clue that it was time to test him came when Kaegan was singing the notes just from reading it, even before he heard it played from the piano. Please read about the nonverbal paradigm research study and the Rancer Method book for teaching music to gifted students, titled Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism.

Source:

Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2015). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures72(7-8), 390-405.

Teaching autistic piano students to self-talk and regulate the mind-body disconnect

How does the autism mind-body disconnect interfere with piano lessons?

In this video, the student is in his 20th week of instruction. He is playing his assigned piece which he has practiced and knows well. Suddenly, his body fails to comply and he appears to “fail” at the task. In my work, teaching the students about the science of movement is key to help them organize their chaotic bodies and take control of sensory dysregulation, dyspraxia, dystonia, and other motor movement issues. It is critical to help the students learn self awareness. I strive to build their self esteem as they advance in their music education but their hands cannot prove that they know how to play the material placed on front of them. Remind them that you will keep teaching, if they will stick with the plan of “talking” to their bodies. Make a “deal” and watch them flourish.

Why ABA Piano Students Struggle to Believe in Themselves, Despite Musical Gifts

I teach piano to non-verbal and autistic students every day. Most have perfect pitch and a very high degree of musical aptitude. Along with their diagnosis comes a trail of baggage from earlier teacher-student relationships. Students as young as five may display behaviors that can be interpreted as aggressive and harmful to themselves and others, behaviors that make them seem like they aren’t paying attention, or behaviors that make them appear as if they don’t understand the instructions of the task at hand. I experience ignorance and intolerance of sensory accommodations from ABA therapists and behaviorally-trained educators observing my piano lessons videos. Their focus is on the ABA-type treatment interventions. It is the majority and sadly not unusual.

VIDEO: Why ABA Piano Students Struggle to Believe in Themselves, Despite Musical Gifts

The distinct differences in the success of my students are directly linked to their early exposure to esteem-building teacher-student relationships, and whether ABA was a big part of their early intervention. It becomes apparent when a student has been exposed to ABA for more than 10% of their lifetime (e.g. 6 months for a five-year-old child). They become prompt dependent for minor tasks. They lose track of their inner awareness and become unable to take clues from their inside-body to self regulate. Dysregulations turn into complete brain-fry. These system shutdowns are neurological and not in their control anymore.

When a student is in a verbal loop, repeating the same word over and over, and their body is shaking, it becomes time to physically redirect the body into a different setting. I will advise the parent to turn their child on the piano bench so their back is to the piano. The loop instantly stops because he is now in a different environmental state. The student will automatically turn his body back to the piano, completely regulated, and ready to resume. It is a shame that we allow people to grow up with a mindset that they have to allow others to tell them how to function, how to be, what to work for, and when to take a break. We owe it to our students to teach them how to prevent overwhelm without physically prompting them into an environmental redirect. See this article for strategies: Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention  

Recommended reading:

Kupferstein, H. (2018) Evidence of Increased PTSD Symptoms in Autistics Exposed to Applied Behavior Analysis. Advances in Autism, 1(1), 19-29. DOI :10.1108/AIA-08-2017-0016 [PDF]

Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2016). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures72(7-8), 390-405. [PDF]

“Can perfect pitch be a problem when teaching note-reading to piano students?” Interview with Dima Tahboub

In this interview with Dima Tahboub of DoReMeStudio.com, we discuss how the Rancer Method builds neurological pathways to have magnify the gift of perfect pitch. Instead of the gift being a problem, there are surprising byproducts of the neuroplastic changes and visual motor cohesion, changes in eye tracking, and explosions in speech and vocalization.

Henny Kupferstein is the co-author of Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism, the book on the Rancer Method designed to teach note-reading for gifted students.

Stop Banning Autistic Stimming Because of Fidget Spinners

Are the new fidget spinners driving you crazy? Autistic stimming and fidget toys differ in purpose. An informed perspective offers an attitude shift for educators who want to become aware of the differences.

Fidgets are marketing as a toy to keep the fingers busy, specifically for a kid who has focusing issues. Focusing issues are consistent with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or ADHD. Focus-seeking fidgeting is a very different purpose than the need to stim in order to prevent sensory overwhelm. The two should not be confused. During sensory overload, an autistic person’s body will uncontrollably move in ways that will try to reboot their brain back to its original functional state. When you react to their reactions to their sensory world, you are irresponsibly causing more harm with your judgement.

Imagine you have a tuning wrench because you are piano technician. The wrench serves a very specific function, and you need your wrench to help keep pianos in tune for your educated clients. Piano teacher, Lili Koblentz in Colts Neck, New Jersey offers this analogy: Your friends see that you have a wrench. They think it is “cool” that you get to carry a tool with you everywhere. They want a wrench too, even though they don’t really need to tighten things as much as you do. Suddenly, you can find wrenches everywhere. Some are cheap, some are expensive, some are bright flashy colors, and some are more subdued colors. Your friends carry them everywhere and are constantly showing them off, and aren’t using them for their intended purpose.

Suddenly, no one is allowed to bring wrenches to class with them, because they are distracting people and keeping them from doing their work. You tell people that you need yours to do your work, because if the nuts and bolts around you are too loose, you won’t be able to do your work. You are told that your tool is just a toy, that you just need to focus on what you are doing and it’ll be easy to complete your work. Besides, when you had your wrench, you were such a distraction to everyone else—it was rude of you to keep your friends from learning.

You are now left with an angry client base, and hundreds of pianos that yowl like dying puppies and feverish kittens every time they are played. You can’t focus on your work because you’re too busy worrying about your livelihood and people’s judgement of your craft, and you aren’t allowed to fix anything because your tool is a toy to everyone else.

Discriminating against a person who legitimately needs a tool to function in their highest capacity is a human rights violation. Autistic people are gifted in many ways. Research showed that 97% of autistic people have perfect pitch1, and sure enough, all of my piano students have it. I would want them to be as skilled in their trade as the piano tuner wants to be. I need to make sure they have all their tools when I am hired to teach them. Therefore, I recognize that the autistic body must constantly be in motion in order to concentrate best. Please rethink your attitudes before you judge a child or adult who reaches for a tool that makes them be more attentive to what you are teaching them.

  1. Next, please read: Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention
  2. Also, please make use of stimming resources page with directions for use.

Sources:

Kupferstein, H., & Walsh, B. J. (2016). Non-Verbal Paradigm for Assessing Individuals for Absolute Pitch. World Futures, 72(7-8), 390-405.

An Unorthodox Life: Radio interview with NPR KQED, April 25, 2017

This 30-minute episode aired through KQED to NPR two years in a row. Three years later, people still write to me about smilier stories and sharing good wishes.

Direct link: An Unorthodox Life: Radio interview with NPR KQED, April 25, 2017 (click the red play button)

Transcript

An Unorthodox Life

LISTEN

33 min

 (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Henny Kupferstein grew up in the Belz sect of ultra-orthodox, Hasidic Jews in Borough Park, Brooklyn. From early childhood, she felt like a misfit. After getting married to a virtual stranger at age 18, Henny began secretly rebelling against the confines of her sect. When she was 34, a startling diagnosis would lead her on a dramatic path away from the Belz and everyone she knew, including her four children.

You can read about Henny’s work with autistic kids and her book, Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autismon her website.

Music for this episode was composed by Nicholas DePrey, Chris Colin, Seth Samuel, and Henny Kupferstein.

Henny Kupferstein, age 18, with her paternal grandparents on her engagement day.
Henny Kupferstein, age 18, with her paternal grandparents on the day of her engagement. (Henny Kupferstein/KQED)
Henny Kupferstein concealed by her veil on her wedding day.
Henny Kupferstein concealed by her veil on her wedding day. (Henny Kupferstein/KQED)
Henny and her husband on their wedding day.
Henny and her husband on their wedding day. (Henny Kupferstein/KQED)
Henny Kupferstein and her four children in front of the New York Aquarium seven years ago, on the last day that she saw them. Her children were 12, 10, 5 and 15 months at the time.
Henny Kupferstein and her four children in front of the New York Aquarium seven years ago, on the last day that she saw them. Her children were 12, 10, 5 and 15 months at the time. (Henny Kupferstein/KQED)
Henny Kupferstein holding a picture of her and her four children in front of the New York Aquarium on the last day she saw them. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Teaching piano student to stim as overwhelm prevention

me showing off my stim toys while student learned to use his sensory need as a overwhelm-preventative instead of a crash-erase.

Me showing off my stim toys while student learned to use his sensory need as a overwhelm-preventative instead of a crash-erase.

Two nonverbal preteens played the piano yesterday. They are my tough fighters, but also spell using RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) letterboards. They frequently type their complaints about their brain-body disconnect and how embarrassing it is that they can’t show through their fingers that they know the music.

Me: “Who else sees your body like this? In what other situation?” WHEN IM OVERWHELMED

“Do you know the difference between physical, emotional, and sensory overwhelm?” NO

And then the Henny-lecture began:

“Play one line, and then go back to the sink and play with the water. That’s what your body needs in order to erase the overwhelm. I don’t want you to wait until your body crashes and then you look like a person who is embaressed of yourself. Go back to the sink to prevent overwhelm. Do we have a deal?” YES

Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism A Guide for Educators, Parents and the Musically Gifted

READ: Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism
A Guide for Educators, Parents and the Musically Gifted

He then played three lines instead of 1, went to the sink. Returned. Played two more lines. Sink. Returned. Thanked me….

I teach awareness of self, so they can make choices. With other autism interventions (such as ABA), they are conditioned to be so prompt dependent, they they lose touch with internal functions. They forget to read their own body signals. In my work teaching piano to nonverbal and autistic students, I undo that damage. Each time they stim, I announce like a translator “you just did that with your fingers near your eyes because you wanted to erase the work of reading treble and bass clef together for the first time”.

As an autistic person, I live inside their sensory experience and can read them instantly. By offering these nuggets, they can learn to connect what they do with why they do it. Eventually, they can reach for those stims as preventative tools. For a list of stimming ideas, see my resources page.

Mah Nishtanah – Four Questions by the Autistic Son: Written from the perspective of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome

Article by Henny Kupferstein. Published in: Spirit Magazine, and Inyan – Hamodia’s Weekly Magazine – Passover Edition, Spring 2011

Published in: Spirit Magazine, and Inyan – Hamodia’s Weekly Magazine – Passover Edition, Spring 2011

“Mommy, everybody is looking. I don’t want to say this out loud, can I go in the kitchen?”

“Tatte Layben, I… Ma! If Zeidy is here by the seder, then I think I should say Zeide Layben”.

“Zeide Layben… Ma! Zeidy is alive, and everybody can see that. Why do I have to announce it?”

“Zeide, ich vil bei dir fregen di fir kashes…

Mah Nishatana Halayla Hazeh… Why is this night different from all other nights? On all the other nights I can eat my rice cake that I eat every night, this time. But tonight, and on this night only… (Ma! We eat matzah the entire Pesach, why do I have to say on this night only?!)…more than any other night, why do we have to eat potato? You know it’s soft and mushy and I hate the way it feels in my mouth? And then when I do swallow it, I can’t drink again until after the next Kos, after saying mah nishtanah?

Why is this night different from all other nights? On all the other nights I can sit with my comfortable shabbos shirt, the one that is made to look like a shirt but is really a t-shirt, the one that has no seams or labels? Why on this night do I have to wear this itchy glittery shirt that I made with the O.T. by therapy? My fingers got all sticky from the glue and I had glitter on my eyelids for three days and three nights. And also, I think there are some rabbonim who hold that glue is chometz! And people might not know that glitter is made of very small, 1 mm pieces of paper, glass or plastic painted in metallic, neon and iridescent colors to reflect light in a sparkling spectrum. Glitter was invented by Henry Ruschmann. This is really very interesting! Which reminds me of the next question…

Why is this night different from all other nights? On all the other nights I keep my salad dry without dressing because I hate dressing and nobody forces me anymore. But tonight, and on this night only, and also tomorrow night at the second seder because we are in galus and in chutz l’aretz, not like the people who in Eretz Yisroel have only one seder each year. In America, we have two, and also if an American goes to Israel for Yom Tov, they must have two sedarim. That’s why I don’t want to go to Israel on Yom Tov because it would make me feel all mixed up inside and my brain would feel all funny and I would see everything in jumping zig-zags and I would get very upset and I would have to make that noise with my mouth because it feels better afterwards. I would much rather have two seders over here, as long as I can stay in the kitchen. And, also, if I can have my romaine lettuce dry, without being forced to dip it in the charoses, which is very old apples and are already brown, and brown is my worst color.

Why is this night different from all other nights? On all the other nights I can sit on my special chair by the wall in the kitchen, where nobody can touch me or breathe near my plate, but tonight, and also tomorrow night, we have to eat reclined, and that means I would be touching Ari’s chair. If I touch Ari’s chair, I will touch Ari’s right leg and I know he will kick me. Last year in Bubby’s house he kicked me after the third kos, and when I was third grade, I was leaning on cousin Chaim from Lakewood who was 14 then, and he almost kicked me but I hated touching him because I was worried that I would get too close to his beard. His beard looked like it would be prickly and it would make me feel like I need to run to my room and bang my head for a long long long time. And then my therapist will get upset that I didn’t do the brushing exercise.

Ma! When is this over? Can I stop saying Mah Nishtana and drink some grape juice now?”

Please do not reprint or photocopy without permission. 

Addressing Note-Reading Problems with ABA Conditioned Prompt-Dependent Piano Students

music-tutoring-071

Addressing Note-Reading Problems with ABA Conditioned Prompt-Dependent Piano Students

I just finished teaching a 6-year-old who has been resisting note-reading. Before finishing the first level, I moved back to the beginning of 2nds and 3rds for review rather than pushing past the songs at the end of the level.

It’s very important to recognize the real reason why this student is not looking in the book. In this case, I recognized that ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) conditioning has made him become completely prompt-dependent and has no idea that he can actually read and execute the task independently with his own (brilliant) mind. Instead, he sits and waits for mom, or me, to say “is it going up or down?” or “how much? Seconds or thirds?” and he just guesses without actually looking at the notes. When prompted to look at the book, he gazes but doesn’t actually look for the purpose of reading, but rather just to follow directions. He does the same thing with his after-school math tutors.

Today, we had a breakthrough. I told the mother than I have experience in undoing this damage and that my technique requires that we overwrite the prompt dependency with vocal reflections of whenever he does execute any tasks independently, regardless of how small. The more feedback he receives, the more he will begin to recognize, “Oh, that’s how it feels when I’m doing it correctly. Let me do more of that.” For example, the first feedback he got was “aha! You knew that the treble clef was the right hand. Look how you put that right hand straight on to C position without anyone’s help.” He was pleasantly surprised at the recognition of his own accomplishments. Next, I repeated the same acknowledgement for the left hand: “Look! You knew that the bass clef was coming up in this measure, and you prepared your left hand in the C position. Awesome reading!”.

For the actual note-reading of the melody, he required constant prompting, but I refused to give anything away, nothing more than, “You tell me. You know how to read. You just played an E. You know if it’s going up or down, and you know if it’s seconds or thirds.” He responded with guessing, to which I then said “Use your fingers” and he promptly played the correct note. Immediately, I said, “Excellent reading”. In summary, the only two prompts should be “Excellent reading” for each and every note played, or “Fix it / clean it up”. Nothing more. Please share your feedback on this approach.
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Autism Motivation and Perfection Anxiety: Teaching to the Gift of the Perfect Pitch

“Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism” Book interview with co-author Henny Kupferstein by Stacy McVay from Smiles and Symphonies in Memphis Tennessee.

“Perfect Pitch in the Key of Autism” Book interview with co-author Henny Kupferstein by Stacy McVay from Smiles and Symphonies in Memphis Tennessee.

  1. “How do we motivate autistic students in and outside of piano lessons?”
  2. “How does the gift of perfect pitch translate to other areas and skill-sets?”

More links:

 

Autistic kid’s bar-mitzvah prep unlocked his future

Ethan and Henny, November 5, 2016

Ethan and Henny, November 5, 2016

Words cannot describe how it feels to prep an autistic boy for his bar-mitzvah and then watch him journey into his own spiritual manhood with grace, dignity, and pure joy. This is a kid that everyone has given up on because he showed no academic potential until 18 months ago when I entered into his life.

Today, he is a transformed human being. With perfect pitch and ten years of piano lessons, memorizing his aliyah (torah portion chant) was ridiculously easy for him.  The bar-mitzvah was not the culmination of our work together, but rather the unlocking of the first 1% of his potential for the rest of his life. My speech is in the last two minutes of the video below.

“The Right to an Education”, Article Typed by Non-Verbal Autistic Piano Student with Dyspraxia

NICOLAS JONCOUR

NICOLAS JONCOUR

Article typed by Nicolas Joncour, Piano Student

[First appeared in ZOOM Autism Through Many Lenses magazine, Issue 9, p. 20]

A decent life in France is practically impossible for an autistic student, especially if you are nonverbal like me. In special schools there is no real education, and the psychiatric hospital remains the norm. As my mother encounters more and more difficulties to enroll me in a normal school, the only solution to an equal opportunity is maybe to leave France. I want to go to university to study the Holocaust as people with disabilities are still destined to horrific fates.

My hope is to study history and the Holocaust, a subject that has intrigued me for almost six years. Specifically, Operation T4, which is the eradication of the people with disabilities by the Nazis. Perhaps the Holocaust interests me because I feel the discrimination in relation to my disability. The eyes of others are like deportation camps without return for me.

Without my mother I would likely be in a psychiatric hospital. The right to education definitely remains the domain of utopia. The more I grow, the more I realize I do not have my place in society. I have to fight to deserve to dream. My disability, autism and dyspraxia, makes me look like a mentally-challenged person. People talk to me as if I am a small child, and they watch my gestures as if I am a monster.

The reality is that all their looks are like the slam of a cattle wagon door. My connections towards the victims of Operation T4 are very strong, and my reality joins their fatal destiny. I have faith that helps me, and God gives me so much love that I do not feel alone. I think I have the right to denounce my condition and my social discrimination as long as I would suffer of it. The right to a dignified life is my fight, and I recently joined the ENIL Youth Network to create change. Nonverbal autistic people demand recognition of their right to a real education.

My life would be rather simple if people would consider me as a person rather than a thing to eradicate. I want my intelligence to be recognized without having to meet the low expectations of people who doubt me. The peculiarity of my disability is that I understand very well what kind of people I have to deal with. The inability to defend myself makes me vulnerable to all attacks. Not being able to express oneself orally is a very hard way to live.

People do not consider my written prose without doubt. Not even my relatives who do not understand autism. To be recognized, mentalities must change, and the way we move, having no eye contact and no speech, shouldn’t exclude us from living a fulfilled life. For this to happen, we need the right to education, an education which mustn’t be negotiable and should be accessible to all.


Nicolas Joncour is a 16-year-old nonverbal autis­tic student who types. He lives in France and is homeschooled and in mainstream school for a few hours per week.

Follow him on Facebook and visit his blog.

Putting on the Bar-Mitzvah Tallit: Autism and Motor Skills (VIDEO)

putting-on-the-bar-mitzvah-tallit-autism-and-motor-skills-time-0_00_3422Autistic kids preparing for their Bar-Mitzvah are at a distinct advantage. Their musical ear will make memorizing their Torah portion a breeze. Their love for languages will guarantee that the drash
will be read with expression and drama. Lastly, their extensive support team from childhood will be rooting for them, making their big day a very important rite of passage and into adulthood.

When purchasing a tallit, it is important that the B’nei Mitzvah’s sensory preferences are a
lready known. Does he prefer soft velvety fabrics or is he aversive to them? Does he prefer woven linens to chenille and velvet? He should be given as much time as he needs to test by wearing the actual styles and make sure he can tolerat
e the textures on his neck. After all, he will be wearing it for two hours on the big day, as well as for the rest of his life during prayers. Perhaps he prefers that you wash and dry it many times so it isn’t very crispy on the big day. Ask, and discuss.

Donning the tallit independently and with dignity is very important. Nobody wants to stand up there looking like a confident young man with a beautiful suit and tie, dressed to the nines, and suddenly have mama adjust the tallit on for him. Imagine the public embarrassment anyone would feel—“Ma, stop!”

Other than the grueling and frustrating rote memorization of gross and fine motor skill tasks, motor planning disorders (such as dyspraxia) require a neurological alternate route for successful execution of the task at hand. The following is a strategy that worked for my student:

  1. putting-on-the-bar-mitzvah-tallit-autism-and-motor-skills-time-0_01_1706Grandpa (or whoever) holds the tallit, with the words facing you, so you can read them.
  2. Begin reading the blessing.  You’ve got this. You’ve been practicing for so long!
  3. Right Hand reaches for the word  “Batzitzit”
  4. Left Hand reaches for the word “Baruch”
  5. With your “Batzitzit” hand (Right Hand), put “Batzitizit” over your head.
  6. Gloat as it falls into place.
  7. Wiggle the tallit to make sure it doesn’t hang like a toilet paper tail. Don’t look at it. Try to feel it.

 

IMPORTANT: Do not practice in front of a mirror. It confuses the motor system that tries to imitate a reversed image. Rather, practice by reading from this chart.  If the tallit does not have words on it, imagine where the words would be and reach for it when grabbing the corners. If it is your family custom to kiss the tallit, ask your family where and when to do so and revise your chart accordingly.

Autistic ABA Survivors Grow into Soul-Crushed Teenagers: Tracing the Roots of the Damage

All humans are born with the capacity and drive to seek out a distinct individual sense of self. This agency is robbed of autistic people who are conditioned under behavioral therapy with ABA (applied behavior therapy) to have a misconstrued sense of influence and control.

ABA is discrimination because the behaviors to be modified are targeted on the basis of disability. ABA is also extreme oppression because it is silencing a minority when their behavior (stimming) is not a threat to the majority and it allows them to function in a healthy way. The specific focus of the intervention is not primarily on helping a child to learn functional life skills such as brushing their teeth. Rather,  ABA practitioners are systematically forcing children to perform tasks without stimming, which autistic people must employ to move comfortably and efficiently through the environment.

Amy is an autistic teenaged piano student with perfect pitch. After every measure of four notes played, I ask her if she played it correctly since I know she can hear it and identify her mistakes by ear. For more than a year, she has always responds with, “I don’t know. Was it?” Recently, I asked Amy, “How do you know you are a good person?”

She answered, “Because people say, Good job, Amy.”

I probed a bit more: “So if you watch TV and don’t do math homework, how do you know you’re a good person?”

“Well, then I’m not a good person. I suck!”

Amy has grown to define her identity by the verbal affirmations of the tasks she has performed, whether good or bad. The consequence of the plummeting dignity and pulse of her human spirit is that educators feel compelled to keep lowering the bar to reflect her outwardly dull shell. Amy is now being rewarded for showing up to 3rd grade math class even if she fails the tests. She now presents like a robot that inhales and exhales daily, while completely disconnected from her ability to self-check her own performance for anything. Amy just lives her life waiting for a particular kind of feedback from the world around her to know how to operate next.  

B.F. Skinner was a 20th century American behaviorist who believed that thoughts, emotions, and actions are exclusively products of the environment. With that premise, he centered his discipline theories on rewards rather than punishment. The ABA practices rely heavily on operant conditioning so the student can modify their behavior to earn a reward. Practitioners will condition the environment so students will modify their behavior not because they fear the punishment, but because they fear losing the reward. That to me is still relying on fear as a deterrent, which is a very concerning psychological stressor.

An extreme behavior modification that is intentionally conditioned to be a response to an external stimulus can be a direct contributor to a permanent psychological trauma. Carl Jung agreed with Sigmund Freud’s experiments on word associations: a disturbance occurs each time a stimulus word has touched upon a psychic lesion or conflict (Jung, 1989, p. 147). An intervention that undermines a fundamental right of human functioning is a civic transgression, and a legitimate moral worry that must be publicly deliberated. One hundred years ago, Skinner tried to demystify the human condition. Today, autistic culture has a long way to go before it can be accepted for its unique contribution to the future of mankind.  

For all those who argue that ABA helped their child develop speech, know that speech is only a mark of achievement when a child is not like Amy: She is verbal, but her spirit is dead. How can we fix this? Read UNDOING OPERANT CONDITIONING TRAUMA WITH AUTISTIC PIANO STUDENTS.

Sources:

Jung, C. G. (1989). Memories, Dreams and Reflections. New York: Vintage Books.


IMPORTANT! Please take the ABA Early Childhood Intervention Survey for my Research Study click here for the link (Survey for Autistic adults 18+, or parents of autistic children)

Undoing operant conditioning trauma with autistic piano students

ABA for autistics is based on Skinner’s operant conditioning for dogs. In this video, you can see the lone dog waiting for permission to have fun. Watching this clip, I can almost hear the ABA kid saying, “Miss Ashley–what am I working for? After I swim for 5 minutes, can I have 15 minutes of iPad time?”

Many of my autistic piano students are ABA survivors. They have been led to believe that they have no original thoughts, intentions, or free will. Everything they do is scripted, and everything they don’t do is conditioned. It takes us weeks to begin undoing the damage. In the worst cases, it takes months or years, depending on their age and the length of the ABA-induced trauma.

To investigate child development, 19th century behaviorist Ivan Pavlov experimented on dogs. Back in the days before ethics banned such experiments, he assumed that dogs will comply with the training because they are motivated by food. Operant conditioning is a way to manipulate (condition) the environment (operation) to produce an outcome. If the behavior is rewarded with a good consequence, more of that good behavior will keep coming. Likewise, if a behavior is negatively reinforced, the behavior will dissolve.

Standard ABA reward chart

Standard ABA reward chart

ABA (applied behavior analysis) is considered an ‘evidence-based treatment’ for autism, only because the evidence is based on Skinner’s behaviorism on Pavlov’s experiments. When applied to humans, the parent who prefers a favorable outcome will be delighted that their child finally learned to go potty. The problem extends into the ethics of those in position of power who determine the goals. The therapist and parent get to decide on a list of behaviors to enforce, and a list of behaviors to diminish. This can include much-needed self regulatory stimming (Also read: Reframing Autistic Behavior Problems as Self Preservation: A Freudian View). As in child sexual abuse*, the victim will lifelessly comply if they are groomed with compliments and treats. Just like Pavlov speculated, we are more likely to repeat a behavior once we learn that it produces positive consequences.

In this video, you can see a non-speaking autistic piano student who was kicking and screaming straight through his first lesson. By the second week, he was playing and reading independently. By the third week, he was happy to follow my guidance to correct his fingering. One month later, this student is now playing with two hands and waits all week for his lesson time, ready to shine. In the first lesson, he had to be convinced to read and play only after the dreaded reward chart was shown to him. After the first month of lessons, he is happily seated at the piano without any rewards mentioned.

With my autistic piano students, the work starts from the first lesson when the student realizes that playing the piano is the ‘reward’ and not the ‘task’ with which to work on for a reward. Rather than dumbing the material down to rehearsing Twinkle-Twinkle, I start the first lesson with sophisticated music so they can hear the the sound of their own intelligence. This no-fail approach always leads to lightbulb moments where the kids begin to come back to life. For the parent witnessing their child’s strengths, the lessons are a dramatic change from the rest of the week’s structure.


* While I recognize the complexity of the psychology around sexual abuse, I am in no way implying that ABA is comparable to sexual abuse. Rather, I am troubled by the way in which they are similar: both are adult-imposed manipulation on a vulnerable person for producing an pre-planned outcome.

More Articles: A Dog’s Life: Pedagogical Flaws in Repetitive Piano Practice for Autistic Students

Reframing Autistic Behavior Problems as Self Preservation: A Freudian View

Autistic disruptive and injurious behaviors are often seen as problematic. Sensory overload significantly distresses the autistic brain and triggers a halt in all cognitive abilities. Oftentimes, such ‘shutdowns’ might even be undetected sub-clinical seizures. Physiologically, the abrupt onset of sensory overload shutdowns are characterized by eye twitching, headaches, rage, and episodes of staring blankly into space.   

Freud observing autistic girl case study. Artwork by HennyK.com

Freud observing autistic girl case study. Artwork by HennyK.com

The overloaded system will attack with a fight-adrenaline for the purpose of staying alive. The threat of the fire alarm assaulting the autistic nervous system is greater than a herd of wolves chewing away your camping tent. We cannot measure a panic response that is driven by a system made hyperresponsive by extreme perceptual distortions, which are highly individualized. We also cannot judge a behavior as abnormal or a problem, when the survival and sanity of the autistic person is dependent on the behavior’s execution.

Sigmund Freud argues that man learned to survive by making use of all utilities and resources accessible to him. For the continuity of the species, “with every tool, man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory…[enhancing or] removing the limits to their functioning (Freud, 1989, p. 43)”. For example, early humans extinguished fire with the stream of their urine. The extinguishing of fire is not a problematic behavior when understood as a purposeful act with an intention to advance the needs and functioning of the individual.

For autistic people, stimming and flapping are tools for self regulation. The more they do it, the more they are listening to you, or concentrating on the task at hand. The more sensory information you force them to integrate simultaneously, the more you are forcing them to revert to their primal need to just survive. When the mammalian brain goes into survival mode, you no longer reserve the right to pathologize the response as a behavior problem.

Source: Freud, S., Strachey, J., & Gay, P. (1989). Civilization and its discontents. New York: W.W. Norton.

Intolerance, By God – Book Project by Henny Kupferstein

Have you ever been told that you are a sinner and you will go to hell, because you are different, and that you need to correct your ways or God will strike? Your story may help increase acceptance of autistics in fundamentalist religious groups. Please share this video page.

Transcript of Video

Have you ever been told that you are a sinner and you will go to hell, because you are different, and that you need to correct your ways or God will strike? My name is Henny Kupferstein and I’m writing a book called Intolerance, By God. The book is a collection of anecdotes from autistic people who have been born, raised, or excommunicated from a religious group or Fundamentalist cult.

The stories in the book help the reader understand how the individuals have endured, survived, and made their way out by virtue of their own brain differences. Autistic people navigating the neurotypical world already do feel like a minority.Coupled with the past experience of religious abuse, the struggle to gain autonomy is tremendous.

If you know someone who has endured similar experiences and can contribute to this book, please get in touch with me.If you have a specific question that you would like answered,please refer to the description and the page below for information on how to submit. Thank you very much.

Instructions for Participation

  • Please contact me via email only.
  • Do not write your story in the email, but rather a short statement on why you would like to participate in this book project.
  • Please specify “Intolerance, By God” in the subject line.
  • Deadline: May 1, 2016 (subject to change).

Music Sessions

I teach non-verbal and autistic students to develop their musical gift in a permanent and dignified way. Through evidence-based piano pedagogy for perfect pitch students, there is no fear of rejection because of “behavior problems”.

Strength-based abilities system: What comes before “D”?  If you answered “C”, then you are ready to learn sight-reading for piano.  Beginners and all level of abilities and special needs are welcome.  My specialized method is designed to empower all individuals through piano mastery. Non-verbal and autistic homeschooled students with special needs and/or perfect pitch thrive from piano lessons.

Scientific-based methodology – The neurobiology of auditory learning accessed during music instruction stimulates language-based skills necessary for educability. All humans are capable of benefiting from this specific methodology, especially non-verbal and autistic clients with enhanced musicality.

Why Piano? Teaching sight-reading for piano in the classical tradition empowers non-verbal autistic individuals to demonstrate intellect through music.  Because most autistic people have perfect pitch, this process rapidly enriches their daily lives, and carries over to all areas of academia. The moment this can be observed by others, such individuals are recognized as worthy of regular education.

Can I get smarter by listening to Mozart music every day?  “Nobody ever got fit watching spectator sports.” Making the music, rather than listening to recordings, “transforms your nervous system” and makes you a better learner” (DR. NINA KRAUS (2013) Neurobiologist , Northwestern University, California).

In my music sessions, I address the following goals:

    1. Cognitive Development:

      1. Increase attention span.

      2. Develop orientation to the environment.

      3. Executive Function Skills 1
    2. Motor Development:

      1. Increase physical coordination.

      2. Improve dexterity and flexibility.

      3. Increase gross and fine motor skills.

      4. Develop hand-eye coordination.

      5. Develop motor-planning skills.

  1. Perceptual Development:

    1. Increase auditory discrimination skills

    2. Develop auditory concepts.

    3. Improve convergence insufficiency
  2. Social Development:

    1. Enriched communication skills.

    2. Enriched group skills

  3. Affective development

    1. Increase self-esteem and self-confidence.

    2. Bring about creative self-expression through music.

CLICK TO SEE MORE VIDEOS

Tobi (5), Non-Verbal Autistic, vocalizing for the first time with the help of the music

Tobi (5), Non-Verbal Autistic, vocalizing for the first time with the help of the music

oliver

SEE VIDEO “There is so much to tell you, really. How I found this awesome, incredible teacher. How she recognizes his strengths and teaches to them. How she effortlessly assumes his competency even when I’m still not sure! How she totally gets how he processes information. How I always leave a lesson thinking: Well, this next step is going to be hard! And then how it totally isn’t even a fraction as hard as I imagined! Just thinking about it makes me want to explode with happiness. Happiness for Oliver in his achievement and happiness that I could finally help him do something he has wanted for so long.” ~ Oliver’s Mom, on All About the Music blog

molly

“By the third week of her lessons, Molly was a changed person. Empowered by recognition of her creativity, she was able to deal with the bullying at school”.


One autistic boy’s progress: From screaming, to playing, to note-reading in 3 weeks

Get Started:

Click here to contact me for more information.