Senior helps students with autism learn to play piano

A Columbus North High School senior who aspires to become a neurologist is helping local students with autism learn how to play the piano.

The effort by Varshita Venkatachalam is part of her independent project, which can double as the senior project, for the C4 biomedical innovation class at North.

Venkatachalam is working with six local students, who were referred by Paige West, a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. autism coordinator.

Providing instruction each week in a North piano practice room, Venkatachalam is trying determine whether the piano lessons improve her students’ hand and eye coordination.

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Venkatachalam, who began playing piano in 2009, said she hoped her project would help the students improve their coordination, after researching how autism affects a student’s hand and eye movement.

Working with the students has had a benefit for Venkatachalam too.

“I’m a really shy person … and I think this is kind of helping me come out of my shell,” she said.

So far, only one student has successfully completed a two-week session of lessons she has offered, so it’s too early to determine if the students are experiencing improvement in hand and eye coordination, she said.

But whether coordination improves or not among the students, it’s more important that each student is learning how to play piano, she said.

“I just like working with each of them one-on-one and figuring how to gear it to them specifically so they understand the concept,” Venkatachalam said. “Even if they don’t get any improvement, it’s something fun to do.”

Columbus resident Sandy Rankin said she decided to have Venkatachalam work with her 12-year-old son Seth, who is in seventh grade at Central Middle School, for the piano lessons.

She described her son as a smart young man who has a lot of potential and commended Venkatachlam for her efforts to help him.

“I think kids like him have potential, but it needs to be pulled out,” Rankin said. “He seems to enjoy it so far.”

Venkatachalam, who still is deciding where she plans to attend college in the fall, will continue offering piano lessons until the first week of March.

“I just want to help out and make a difference in the world and maybe this is something that could help me do that,” she said.

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The project by Columbus East High School senior Varshita Venkatachalam is part of her independent project for the C4 biomedical innovation class that also can double as a senior project.

Piano lessons are taught on a weekly basis to students with autism in grades 2 to 6 in BCSC, who were referred by Paige West, a BCSC autism coordinator.

To contact West, call 812-376-4489.