Ali is a young musician from Liverpool who is also autistic. Find out how she developed her passion and talent for music, as shared by Ali, her clarinet teacher Mark Jones, foster mum Alison Byrne and school music teacher Rebecca Jensen.
Alekhandra Filmon, known as Ali, is a clarinet player from Liverpool. Fun-loving and highly creative with perfect pitch, Ali loves singing and playing instruments. She is also autistic and experienced a traumatic early childhood. She has intensive special needs and often communicates using a mix of phrases she has picked up from conversations, songs, TV and films.
Ali was seven when she met her foster mum, Alison. With consistent care Ali’s interest in music began to shine through. She would often sing and become calm when music was played. Based on this, Alison decided that Ali should learn an instrument. The guitar or keyboard were suggested but Ali was clear she wanted to play the clarinet. Ali’s primary school agreed to invite Resonate – Liverpool’s music education hub – to send a specialist music tutor into school and SEND music specialist and multi-instrumentalist Mark Jones began providing one-to-one tuition.
To begin with Ali’s focus and attention were unstable and she would become distracted, playing other instruments or singing favourite songs, but Mark encouraged these explorations to build a rapport and develop a bond of trust. Over several weeks Mark learned ways to gently encourage Ali to play the clarinet for longer periods and in a more disciplined manner; this was aided by Alison’s idea of using a star chart and prizes for good behaviour and focus.
Learning and practice routines were gradually established and Ali moved from just playing in the lower register to tackling the upper register – a joyful experience as she could now play a wider range of music with more emotional impact, including favourite songs such as You’ve Got a Friend in Me and Consider Yourself.
Progress and achievement
Towards the end of Ali’s first year on the clarinet, Mark and Alison felt that she was ready to take her Practical Grade 1. The only issue was that Ali’s behaviour could be unpredictable and if she became distracted while playing she might lose concentration and slow down. Alison was understandably nervous for Ali, but ABRSM’s access arrangements meant that she could have someone familiar in the room. When she passed everyone breathed a sigh of relief and realised that she was, after all, very capable of succeeding in a more formal musical setting.
Ali was by now making good progress in most areas of her life, helped along immensely by her positive musical experiences, including singing and dancing lessons and attending a local rock school. Singing has helped Ali to develop her language skills and following an audition in London she was invited to join the National Youth Music Theatre – the first young person they
have worked with who has her level of need. Alison also managed to find a local secondary school for Ali that has a positive and flexible approach and was willing to provide extra lessons and opportunities.
When it came to Grade 2, Ali went into the exam on her own, again with access arrangements and adjustments that enabled her to showcase her skills and learning. Ali exceeded everyone’s expectations and gained a Merit. The experience and the result were wonderful for Ali’s confidence.
Ali now has a rich and varied musical life with a lesson or musical activity on most school days and loves to perform for others. She plays the clarinet in the Resonate Youth Philharmonic Orchestra and is a member of the DadaFest Dada Ensemble, a collective of young disabled musicians. She has performed in a professional pantomime, has joined NOFA (National Orchestra for All) and has recently passed her Grade 3 Clarinet exam. Looking ahead, Ali is keen to continue her musical journey at college.
Persistence and positivity
Ali’s successes and growing ambition are proof of how a young person with intensive special needs can thrive and be recognised for their musical talents and abilities, given the correct support and stimulation.
Access arrangements and adjustments to support candidates with specific needs have allowed Ali to succeed in exams, while support and guidance from the Resonate music education hub have underpinned many of her key achievements.
Ali’s musical journey has involved a lot of firsts, often preceded by comments such as ‘we haven’t done that before’ or ‘we don’t normally do that’. However, her story demonstrates that with persistence and a positive attitude from everyone involved, young people from even the most disadvantaged backgrounds can make massive steps and succeed.
Support for learners with specific needs
Thank you to Ali, Alison, Mark and Rebecca for sharing Ali’s story.
Each year we examine candidates with a wide range of disabilities, health conditions and specific needs, and we have a number of access arrangements and reasonable adjustments we can put in place for candidates taking our exams. You can find out more in our Fair Access Guidelines or contact our Access Coordinator if you have any questions: [email protected]