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Neuro-Inclusive Music Teaching

Everyone learns differently, so how do you accommodate the neurodiversity of your students?

Last updated: 02 August 2023

How to teach music to neurodivergent students

As a music educator, you’ll know that everyone learns differently. Some students may find specific environments or teaching methods more useful than others because of how their brain processes information. On the flip side, some students may really struggle to learn in certain situations or environments.

The term neurodiversity refers to the many different types of thinkers there are, including those who may identify as being neurodivergent. For example, neurodivergent learners may be autistic, have ADHD, dyslexia – or all three.

Neurodivergent individuals are known to be gifted in the arts due to their ability to think “outside the box”, so it’s very possible you will encounter some of these people in your teaching practice.

12 approaches to teaching neurodivergent students

Below are some approaches which may make a big difference to pupils who are neurodivergent, even if they don’t have a diagnosis – and you may already be doing some of these without realising.

1. Giving the learning materials in advance

Some students might benefit significantly from getting a look at the lesson plan/structure before starting the lesson.

2. Summarising the learning from the previous lesson

This could really help students understand how the previous lesson relates to the current lesson. This also creates an opportunity for them to ask any questions that they may have thought of since.

3. Reducing distractions

Windows, background noise and background movement can all contribute to being a distraction to students, and some are particularly sensitive to distraction even if they really enjoy their lessons.

4. Considering when routine works well

Having an established routine and structure can really help some students feel at ease learning new skills.

5. Considering when variety works better

Incorporating a variety of tasks can really help keep a student engaged in the lesson, and could be as simple as focusing on a new skill or technique.

6. Questions as a good thing

If a student is asking questions then it means they’re engaging – even if it feels disruptive, they may be asking questions as a way to keep their focus and demonstrate their learning.

7. Being open to assistive technology

If a student has found some technology that helps them learn, they may want to use it in their lessons. This could be as straightforward as a note taking app. There may even be a fidget toy or earplugs which help students concentrate on the lesson.

8. Being open to visual learning

Techniques that use colour coding or images to assist memory retention are used across many subjects. It can also help you to reiterate important information that you've already taught in a new way.

9. Dating and numbering learning materials

This can be a simple way to help students remember their learning, recall lessons, and reflect on their progress.

10. Allowing for fidgeting

Some students find that fidgeting or moving actually helps them concentrate, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t listening – it can mean the opposite.

11. Repeating yourself can help

Memory is important for learning new skills, and you may need to repeat instructions or information in order for it to settle into one student’s memory more than another’s. Repeating information can also help the student understand the significance of the information.

12. Giving feedback in the moment

Giving feedback or praise at the time when a student has done well, rather than later in a report, could help the student understand their progress in a much more meaningful way.

If you’re ever unsure, you can always ask the pupil.

This guidance is compiled from resources originally produced by the ADHD Foundation, sharing pointers on small things that may be a big help accommodating the neurodiversity of students.

The ADHD Foundation is the UK’s leading neurodiversity charity, offering a strength-based, lifespan service for the 1 in 5 of us who live with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, DCD, Dyscalculia, OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome and more.

Member services for teaching musicians