APD and Playing A Musical Instrument

Hi Jeff,

My son has been diagnosed with APD and at his school it's compulsory to learn the violin. He is only just passing the subject and doesn't find enjoyment in it at all. I was wondering if you have ever played and instrument and whether you struggled with it. Do you think learning an instrument is either beneficial or detrimental to his schooling? (I'm concerned that his struggles effect his self esteem and I'm also worried that forcing him to practice is taking time away from other activities he could be doing that are more beneficial to him). Thanks so much for taking the time to read my email.




Hi Alana!

Good questions.

I never learned to play an instrument. However, I do remember it being encouraged - and I did try the standard violin in 9th grade. My biggest hurdles were 1) being able to correctly hear the teacher's verbal instructions / lessons in class, 2) understand them in real-time, 3) immediately be able to duplicate what the teacher just played, and 4) then be able to play in sync with the rest of the class. It was not easy and I didn't like going to that class one bit. In fact, I still vividly remember that particular classroom to this day. I was always afraid that I would be called out by the teacher and embarrassed for "playing it wrong or off key." And yes, that happened. It was obvious I wasn't following along well at times no matter how attentive I was.

Practicing at home allowed me to make mistakes and learn at my own speed. But, I dreaded the class and that affected my whole experience. No, it didn't help my confidence either.

That experience was very short-lived. The school transferred me to a home economics / cooking class for the rest of the semester. That class was awesome. Love to cook and it was mostly girls :). I still have all the recipes too.

Oddly, now that I'm older (43), I'd love to learn to play the guitar.

I don't think learning an instrument is detrimental to his schooling. I understand the importance of introducing kids to music & instruments while they are young. It's much easier to learn when at that age. However, for a child with APD, classes like music and foreign languages can be a royal headache. He may need additional time and help to learn at his speed.

Depending on how long your son is required to play the violin, I suggest a one-on-one tutor or lessons after school with the teacher. It may quicken the pace and require less trial-and-error practice on his own. Should improve his confidence too that he CAN do it (whether he likes violin or he totally hates it).

Are his teachers aware of his APD? Most of my teachers were notified ahead of each school year. My parents wrote a letter to include in my school file.

On a general note, being that your son may not appreciate music or understand the words to songs (both very common with APD), he may learn to find "emotion" or "feeling" in instrumentals. For me, I still like or dislike a tune based on the instrumental performance.

With all this said, I understand fully his personal struggle with self-esteem at that age (and your concerns). It's going to be an issue as he grows up. He will be more sensitive than most to the ups and downs of self-esteem. Not comprehending what he hears, being unsure of verbal instructions, etc. is very unsettling.

A really good way to build his confidence and self-esteem is for him to follow a passion. I agree entirely with you. When he is not having to practice violin, encourage him to find something he likes and is interested in getting better at. It may take a while, but look what he likes to do for enjoyment. Growing up, I always liked building things with my hands whether it be legos, models, fully functional go-carts, elaborate tree-houses in the backyard, etc. I loved building things. Made me feel great seeing the results. Played baseball in school. I can also draw extremely well. Enjoyed that too. All three things made me feel great.

Recently, I had a similar conversation with my 12 year old step-daughter. She too is being forced to learn A LOT of different things in school. I told her to try them. If you like it - great! If not, DO NOT get down on yourself. Do the best you can and move on. It's not permanent. Some things you will be better at than others. The goal is to find what you like from a large pool of options they are throwing at you. There are a lot of things you won't like - and that's ok! Pursue what interests you. You'll notice everybody will chose something different. That's the point.

Some good advice: I recommend this for everybody, especially anyone with APD. Your son should practice reading body language. He has and will encounter many situations where what people say verbally isn't what their body is saying. He will find comfort in believing and understanding body language over the spoken word as a more accurate indicator of an interaction. As he gets older and starts dating & eventually gets out of school to start a career, understanding body language can't be understated. So many people don't say what they really mean and it will be even more confusing for him than the average person. The body doesn't lie! He will be better able to reconcile what's really going on in any situation even if he hears it incorrectly.

Hope this helps! I was in a writing mood. This topic really got me going.

Feel free to follow-up and ask anything.


PS: I have two friends (one from elementary school and one from college) who are brilliant at violin. They still perform at concerts and love it. Everyone else I know dropped their instruments like a hot potato and ran like the wind.

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