From Her Heart to Yours – What Simply Music Gateway Means for Laurie Richards

Written by Laurie Richards on

I have always had a heart for people with special needs. So, in 1993 when I had my first child, I was not surprised when I was told he has Down syndrome. It just felt like it was meant to be.

Laurie Richards and her beautiful family

I have considered it a privilege to include not only my son, but other children and adults with special needs, in my piano studio. Opportunities for music education have traditionally been quite limited for them. The Simply Music curriculum and affiliated programs have provided an opportunity. I am thrilled about the Simply Music Gateway project! It will provide people worldwide with the information and skills needed to give our friends with special needs an avenue of musical expression.

My personal approach is to not make any assumptions about my students’ abilities based on a diagnosis. I like to get to know them a bit, understand more of their ‘stories’, and see what they have to work with before determining if any adaptations are necessary. Often I simply figure out what works as we go, through trial and error.

Our program focuses on a child’s abilities, rather than their disabilities – Simply Music

A few years ago I taught a group of 4 boys who had either Down syndrome or were on the autism spectrum. One little guy with Down syndrome had deformities on both hands. Several fingers were missing or misshapen, and he also had a few knobs instead of fingers. He did have several fingers to work with, infectious enthusiasm, and a love for making music. He had as much going for him as anybody else, if not more.

The student on the autism spectrum was quite verbal and busy. He absolutely loved coming to piano class and even exclaimed as he came in one day, “Coming to piano class is the biggest dream of my whole entire life!” Always full of encouragement, his classmates appreciated him saying “I got your back” if they forgot something I had previously taught.

It is such a joy to teach those classes. Many of these students don’t have the same social ‘filter’ that the rest of us do. I find this to be a breath of fresh air; no matter what they say or do, it represents their genuine selves. I see this as one of many important lessons these students teach us, and I anticipate that Simply Music Gateway will benefit so many more teachers in this way.

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  • jacalyn

    This is great Laurie, thanks! The only student disability I’ve dealt with so far is a “tin ear” (that is, a seeming inability to hear the notes correctly)- but the 32 year old young man who has that problem, has also been my biggest cheerleader, and a faithful practiser of his repertoire. We all have gifts!

    • simplymusic

      Thanks so much for sharing Jacalyn!

  • Dixie Cramer

    Thanks for sharing your heart with us, Laurie. I have a student with Aspergers (sp?). She’s 12 years old & a huge challenge because of her intensely negative outlook, outright rudeness & compulsion to argue with everything. I maintain a calm demeanor, & when all else fails, gently place my arm around her shoulders & reassure her of how much I love her. She leans into me & I feel her body relax. Poor child. She has a tough road ahead of her.

    • simplymusic

      Your student is privileged to have you as a teacher Dixie. How wonderful that showing your love reassures her!