Yamaha Contempo Music School apologises for cancelling flute lesson because of boy's autism

The school apologised profusely for the incident.
The school apologised profusely for the incident.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM SG.YAHAMA.COM

SINGAPORE - Yamaha has apologised after a parent complained that a flute instructor at the Yamaha Contempo Music School cancelled his son's lesson because of the child's autism.

In a Facebook post on Monday (Aug 14), Ivan Lim had described how his 12-year-old son Alex was turned away from his flute lesson at the school located in Plaza Singapura shopping mall.

Alex, who is Mr Lim's only child, had been enrolled in two lessons at the school. The first one went fine and Alex was accompanied by his grandmother, Mr Lim, who is also a musician, told The Straits Times.

However, when Mr Lim dropped by the school on Friday (Aug 11) to pass his son the flute he had forgotten for the second lesson, Mr Lim found Alex sitting outside with their maid, looking "shattered".

"I learned that the teacher had said he did not want to teach Alex because of the boy's autism," wrote Mr Lim, 51, on Facebook. "The staff at Yamaha tried to pin the fault on grandma for not responding to a call they made to cancel the lesson - at 7pm. Seriously? Cancelling a class 75 minutes before it starts?"

He claimed the teacher said he did not want to teach Alex any more as his wife said he could not.

"I felt very helpless," said Mr Lim, who is also the editorial director at media firm Typewriter Media.

Mr Lim told ST that he did not name the teacher, who he said appeared to be in his 60s, as he was not looking to get the man dismissed, nor was he looking for compensation.

Another man, who Mr Lim says could be a student, defended the teacher and threatened to call the police.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Yamaha Contempo Music School told ST that the school has investigated the incident and sought Mr Lim's forgiveness.

"We sincerely apologise for all that we and the teacher did and all that Mr Lim and family went through," said the school. "No child, parent, or grandparent should be made to go through what happened."

It also apologised for not exercising supervision over the teacher to ensure he did not cancel the lesson at the last minute, giving extremely short and unfair notice to Mr Lim's family; its staff member's anxiety to explain the cancellation that may have come across as putting the blame on Alex's grandmother; the teacher not wanting to see any of Mr Lim's family; and not controlling the situation, allowing another student to intervene and make threats against Mr Lim and his family.

Yamaha Contempo Music School said it understands that the staff at the reception was not aware of Alex's condition at the point of enrolment.

"The teacher only learnt of it when Alex's grandmother informed him personally on the first day of lesson," said the school. "We sincerely apologise for the communication lapse in our school."

The school also apologised for the anguish caused to Mr Lim's family, and the disappointment Alex felt.

"As an organisation, such conduct was totally not acceptable and is contrary to Yamaha's core values," said the school. "We failed to live to those values in relating to Mr Lim and his family. We have also spoken to the teacher and he admits that his conduct was not acceptable. The staff at Plaza Singapura that day also wish to apologise and have asked us to convey their most sincere apologies and regrets at their conduct that day."

Alex, however, will continue his flute lessons elsewhere, and Mr Lim said the school has reached out to his mother to offer a full refund.

"We thought Yamaha was a good brand," said Mr Lim. "But I believe this is an isolated incident. I was very unhappy with the way they managed it. I hope they will learn from this episode."

This is not the first time Alex took music lessons.

Composer Zaidi Sabtu-Ramli, a friend of Mr Lim's, had given Alex several lessons over a few months last year but had to stop due to his travelling for work. He told ST that Alex was a very bright student.

The 37-year-old said teaching Alex is "different from teaching normal students, for him you have to come up with a different approach... his attention span is very short".

He said he could not figure out why the teacher reacted the way he did, but said it could be that he did not know how to deal with the set of challenges that came with an autistic child.