Posted by: Marie | October 8, 2009

(159) Healing through teaching

Post #159
[Private journal entry written on Saturday, June 20, 2009]

I had a piano lesson with my little autistic student this morning. I noticed how tall he is getting . . . I guess he is growing up – he turned six years old last month.

The Flower by Martin Chen

The Flower by Martin Chen

He is absolutely amazing. Today we worked on hearing the difference between minor and major third intervals, and on transitioning diminished chords to minor chords by raising the top note ½ step. Then, we transitioned the minor chords to major chords by raising the middle note ½ step. We did this with a root of “B”, then with a root of “G”. His biggest challenge is that his hands aren’t big enough to allow for playing all three notes with one hand, LOL.

It took him all of three minutes to catch on – and yes, he names the various chords by their proper names, like “B diminished chord” (his absolute favorite chord) and “G minor chord” – and yes, he has perfect pitch so he can identify notes and chords by ear. He takes my breath away.

But then, before I could show him how to transition a major chord to an augmented chord (also known as the “doorbell chord” because it sounds like a doorbell to him), he got distracted by something outside (a car flashing by? a radio?) and his attention was gone – and he had had enough for the day. I guess we’ll work on the last transition next week, LOL.

It is a bit shocking to my senses to be having conversations like this with someone whose behavior often looks like the behavior of someone half his age. It is a struggle to keep his attention and to keep him at the piano. He is easily distracted by every little noise or flash of light – and he has to constantly be coached on how to interact in a socially acceptable manner – he doesn’t converse beyond short sentences that express his opinions and desires and inquiries.

Yet, he is amazing with the piano. Just amazing. And, he is happy – happy almost all the time, contently humming along with the symphonies that apparently are always running through his amazing brain.

After the lesson, his mom and I stood outside on the front porch to talk a bit about his progress. I said something along the lines of, “It is such a gift to be his teacher – he is so amazing . . . “ My eyes started filling up with tears a bit as I said it because I truly do have a very soft spot for him in my heart.

His mom noticed the tears and she reached out to hug me – and she told me that, when he was first diagnosed as autistic, she worried that people would reject him – but, instead she has found people like me who have embraced him, loved him and become invested in him – she expressed how much that meant to her, as his mom.

She said she is grateful that I had become his teacher – she is also a piano teacher, but she plays strictly by sight and teaches traditional curriculum. On the other hand, I play primarily by ear and by utilizing my understanding of music’s structural architecture – when I play, I see the music as shapes and patterns and colors in my mind’s eye.

Because his strength is his hearing (he really struggles with grasping visual cues), her son needs someone who can teach him via audio-based learning. I have been able to do that . . every week I create custom learning material that reflects the shapes and patterns and colors I see in my head. Then, during the lesson I use auditory queues to associate the images to various musical components – and, he gets it! Apparently, he is capable of understanding my “language”!

Anyway . . . back to the conversation on the porch . . .

Since the moment seemed right (we were both wiping tears and blowing our noses by this point), I shared a little bit of my story with her. I told her that I had been sexually abused by the minister of music at our church when I was a kid – that he had connected with me through music – that he had used music as a grooming tool. I told her that the experience had made music uncomfortable for me . . and that I had abandoned music as a result.

I told her that, though therapy and fate, I had reconnected with music last summer after 20 years of being disconnected from it. So, I explained, giving her son piano lessons was a huge part of my healing . . . it was part of reconnecting with music and it was a part of learning that I won’t damage kids if I’m around them – I actually can contribute greatly to their development.

Of course, she hugged me again . . . more tears, more snot . . . then, her son came up to us and asked, “What’s wrong?” We explained that we were crying happy tears – that girls are funny that way . . . .

Whew . . . it has been an emotional few days . . . good emotions, though – good days.

Quotes 069


  1. Beautiful story Marie, thanks for sharing. Its fantastic that you were able to take up music again, and that you’re now able to share it by teaching others :)

    • Thank you, Svasti –

      He is such a special, amazing little boy. He has really become a teacher as well as a student to me . . . I’ll give you a hint: there are more stories in the future of how he has impacted me deeply and how music has become a healing instrument for me.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Marie

  2. You are making a difference, I love that. Sometimes it is difficult for us to see the impact we have on other people’s lives. This story gives the rest of us hope.

    • Hey, Ivory –

      Thank you for your kind words . . .

      I really appreciate your continued support of and comments on my blog!

      – Marie

  3. Being able to help others is wonderful to be able to do. And it can often be healing for us too. Which is a wonderful thing. Thanks for this story.

    • My pleasure, Evan!

      I’ve really become invested in this little guy — which gives me another reason to get excited about my day!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Marie

  4. What a remarkable and uplifting story. I am not autistic. But I know that playing the piano for me was an activity that was life saving for me during the time of my abuse. I used to be able to play some very difficult pieces, with amazing ease. And for me this was the only way I had for communicating my inner distress, pain and suffering. I played quite well all through college, and then stopped for about 15 years almost completely. The past couple of years have reintroduced me to piano and I am very grateful for that. I would love a teacher! But I am afraid I would not be able to trust a teacher. Thanks so much, Marie.

    • Hi, Paul –

      Isn’t it interesting that we both disconnected from the most life-giving part of our lives . . . hmmmmmm

      I am so tickled that you have reconnected with music . . your piano playing is absolutely heavenly and healing. Thank you for sharing it on your blog!

      I hope you find a trustworthy teacher some day . . . when you are ready.

      – Marie

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