What are some tips for accommodating students with special needs?

Every student is different. You play a key role in helping students of all ages and abilities succeed! Here are some tips from teachers like you.

Before the first lesson

  • Parents/students may not volunteer information about disabilities up front

  • Don’t be afraid to ask parents/students before the first lesson if there’s anything that you you should know that can help you be the best teacher for the student

  • If you have your own teaching policies, you may want to include a clause to address this  Here is a great example, courtesy of Dena C., a TakeLessons teacher:

“Learning disabilities, physical handicaps, personality sensitivities: Please let me know if the student has any learning disabilities, disorders, or personality sensitivities (ADD, ADHD, Autism/Asperger's, Dyslexia, cognitive delay, perfectionist, extremely shy, etc.), so I can tailor their lessons accordingly.  This will also help me in selecting appropriate lesson books and music for the student.  I also need to know of any physical challenges as well.  I have not had a student yet who couldn’t learn to play piano, even when faced with a learning disability or physical handicap. We may have to slow down the pace a little or make other adjustments, but everyone can learn to play!”


  • Suggest longer lesson times

  • Extra time to explain new concepts

  • For the ADD or ADHD student

  • Longer lesson = double-edged sword

  • Some may be able to handle 45 min, but not 60 min

  • Try it out, and cut back if necessary

  • What works for one student may not work for another!


  • Work on 1 or 2 tasks at one time, at the most

  • Don’t skip around too much

  • Make sure they master the task they will be practicing before they leave the studio


  • Amp up the energy to keep them engaged

  • Do not speak too fast

  • Positive and encouraging words

  • Keep calm and carry on

Introducing Concepts with Repetition

  • Find ways to repeat the same concepts using a variety of methods

  • Simple games

  • Contextualize

Role Reversal

  • Let the student be the teacher

  • Helps student to focus

  • Kids love it and get excited to play teacher for once!


  • Celebrate the smallest of accomplishments

  • Applause

  • High 5’s

  • Stickers

  • Get creative!


  • Flashcards

  • Games

  • Visual and listening activities

  • Particularly helpful for ADD and ADHD students

Seniors or Students with physical disabilities

  • Arthritis or MS using string and keyboard instruments - find ways to drop notes

  • Take the initiative to educate yourself

  • Use adaptive tools

  • Get creative

Additional Resources:

Lessons with Jimi: Tips for Teaching a Piano Student with Alzheimer’s