"Say Hello!" 5 Reasons I Expect my Disabled Students to Greet Each Other By Name

Yep, I expect and encourage ALL my students to greet each other by name as they pass before and after their music lessons with me. I primarily teach students with disabilities nowadays.

Seven of my students have nonverbal autism.

Four more are verbal but are still somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Two have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Two are blind.

One has Down Syndrome.

One has cerebral palsy.

And a few are typical, just for a change of pace.

Here is why I make it a priority to have students greet each other every single week:

1. Communication Skills

It helps all my students improve their interpersonal and communication skills.

  • My typical students (and parents) get more comfortable interacting with my students with disabilities.

  • My teenage student with Down Syndrome has become comfortable saying hello to my blind 10yo student.

  • My 5yo student with ADHD slows down long enough to hear his name from my nonverbal adult student.

  • They learn to put their hand out where the blind student can reach it for a fist bump or a handshake.

  • They learn to remember and say each other’s name. They learn to look at each other’s faces.

It’s not perfect, it takes time, and sometimes it gets messy. But it’s worth it.

Here's my autistic student Carter, 6, greeting my blind student Taylor, 13, like a pro. He's still

working on giving her eye contact each time. (Taylor, being blind, can't tell if he's looking at her, but she can tell if his voice is aimed at her or not.)

2. Use Your Words

It gives my nonverbal students practice using their words. Sometimes I say “Kevin, say hi to Andrew.” And Kevin says, “Hi Kevin.” So we go back and forth a few times - “No, say hi to Andrew.” I know their parents appreciate another grown-up helping teach these young men to use each other’s name, even if it takes several minutes to get it straight. And I’m sure the other person enjoys hearing their name.

Here are Kevin and Andrew, two of my nonverbal students, greeting each other after practicing each week for about about 2 months.

This video shows two autistic students meeting each other for the first time. Talia, 15, is nonverbal and Austin is 6.

3. You're All My Favorite

It helps reduce jealousy. When I was a kid taking piano lessons, I was always super-jealous of the students who came before and after me in the schedule. I was possessive of my teacher, and I felt like the other students were infringing upon my territory. I was also terribly shy, so I never would have felt comfortable talking to a stranger when I was younger. I want my students to all feel like they are all “co-owners” of me and they are not in competition for my attention or pride.

4. Hey, I Know You

It develops camaraderie in my studio. When the students perform at studio recitals or other events, they already know some of the other students’ names. They watch each other grow up and develop musically, and they root for each other to succeed.

5. It's Just Good Manners

It helps teach all my students manners. I am a firm believer that students with disabilities don’t get a “pass” on manners. (In another post, I’ll write about how they don’t get a “pass” on musical skills either.) It might take more practice, more time, and more patience, but all my students can develop the skills to introduce themselves to someone else and greet their friend or colleague using the other person’s name.

This video shows Kieran, 8, a typical student, greeting David, 18, who has Down Syndrome. David was giving me some resistance, but he knows the rules. With some firm patience, he came through just great.

I hope this article helps give teachers and parents ideas of how they can help their students any time they run into another student or colleague. We can all do this!

Please share this article with other parents, music teachers, general ed teachers, and aides you know. Thanks!


Beth Syverson has taught piano and voice since 1980, and she's specialized in teaching music to students with special needs since 2003. She teaches private lessons and music classes to students with disabilities in Orange County, CA, plus worldwide via Skype. FInd out more about how she can help nurture your student's inherent musical voice at www.BethSyverson.com.

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