The Experience of Mentoring a Student Teacher with Autism


Lisa J. Lehmberg, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


Autism, a complex neurological disorder, is one of several classified as pervasive developmental disorders (Hammel & Hourigan, 2013). Individuals with autism perceive the world differently from persons without autism, often leading to significant difficulties with communication and social interaction (Adamek & Darrow, 2010; Autism Society of America, 2013). Autism is a “spectrum disorder,” with symptoms and severity varying widely among individuals (Hammel & Hourigan, 2013). “It is sometimes said that if you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism” (Shore, cited in Beversdorf & Farley, 2015, p. 3).


This case study surrounds a team of university music education faculty and in-service supervising music practitioners who are collaborating to mentor a music student teacher with autism. The study is currently nearing the end of data collection, and will be completed in its entirety in Summer 2017. The purpose of this study is to (a) examine mentoring processes used with a student teacher who has autism, as well as (b) explore participants’ perceptions of the experience of mentoring this particular student teacher. Results are not expected to be generalizable; however, it is hoped that they will serve as a catalyst for dialogue on mentorship of student teachers with disabilities.


The five study participants include two in-service K-12 music educators who are currently serving as supervising practitioners for a student teacher with autism, and three university music education faculty members: the university supervisor for this student teacher, a faculty member who served as a mock interviewer of this student teacher, and the researcher in the roles of student teacher seminar instructor and participant-observer.


Data comprise interview transcriptions and researcher notes from informal, semi-structured, yet open-ended individual interviews with participants, and researcher notes from informal observations of this student in each of his two placements and in student teacher seminar meetings. The supervising practitioners and university supervisor were interviewed three times throughout the placements, for approximately 30-45 minutes per interview. The mock interviewer was interviewed once, for approximately 30 minutes. Interview questions focused on mentoring processes utilized with this student teacher, as well as perceptions of the challenges and benefits of mentoring a student teacher with autism. Data will be coded and analyzed using qualitative techniques to determine emergent themes. The intent is not to generate conclusions that can be applied universally, but to learn more about each participant’s perceptions of the experience of mentoring a music student teacher with autism.


Preliminary results suggest that the following may help to lessen anxiety and scaffold success for this particular student teacher with autism: (a) frequent in-person contact with all supervisors to build trust and caring relationships, (b) presentation of directions and expectations in multiple formats, followed by checking for understanding and (c) facilitation of a relaxed classroom atmosphere.



Adamek, M. S., & Darrow, A. (2010). Music in special education (2nd ed.). Silver Spring, MD: The American Music Therapy Association.

Autism Society of America (2016). What is autism? Retrieved from

Beversdorf, D., & Farley, M. (Eds.). (2015). Is it autism and if so, what next? Retrieved from

Hammel, A. M., & Hourigan, R. M. (2013). Teaching music to students with autism. New York: Oxford University Press.