When my son was diagnosed with autism, I’ll admit I found myself crestfallen and confused. My whole family is incredibly verbal. My nieces and nephews all began to read early, and engaged in preternaturally deep and lengthy conversations from a young age. My son, while mostly all smiles and sweetness, remained locked tightly. It created incredible disconnect between us and the rest of the family. I struggled to find new pathways to communicate with him.
I love the idea of creative therapies. Being in New York, the arts are prominent here and creativity thrives. I try to encourage my son to express himself through creativity. While I understand that swiping a paintbrush across paper is no silver bullet, I strongly believe the arts allow everyone a chance to express themselves. When my son started to hum, first a soft low murmur and then changing pitch while singing, it was the first time I found I was able to decipher his emotions.
I began singing to him and he would sort of half-sing back. Nothing profound, usually about dinner, but it gave me a chance to communicate more deeply with him. It also provided a salve. During frustrating screaming fits, we defaulted to song.
I am not a great singer or musician, so I eventually sought a musical therapist when my son got older to see if we could drill deeper through song. I worried about the loud noise factor. Victor, the therapist, assured me that my son would be okay.
At the first visit, Victor taught my son some notes on a keyboard. It was as if this simple act turned on a light inside my son. He instantly took to the experience. I invested in a small keyboard for him to play at home and he devoted a lot of time to perfecting simple, familiar songs like Happy Birthday and Chopsticks.
We continued therapy, but as my son progressed in his keyboard skills Victor encouraged more robust music lessons. While the idea made me nervous, it was also exciting to participate in a “normal” after school activity.
Victor recommended a great piano teacher with some experience with special needs kids and I sat with him at his lessons. It was so interesting to see him intently focused on learning. We lucked out and the instructor set just the right tone with him from the start so that he felt comfortable very quickly.
While he still is limited in his speech, I can always tell what my son is feeling by what he chooses to play. While he is no impresario, it gives me such a sense of pride when he captures a song just right. I especially love when he softly sings along to a piece. I love to hear his voice.
Musical therapy helps kids with disabilities communicate emotion in a safe environment. It can also uncover hidden talents that they can take pride in. If a child shows talent with an instrument consider developing that skill with lessons. Simple lessons in percussion or piano can give kids a structured outlet. My son’s love of singing developed into a wonderful skill by me hiring a local NY voice teacher to help him grow musically. Typically music lessons are a great opportunity for kids to get one on one attention that moves at their own pace. Communicate with instructors ahead of time about your child’s special needs.
My son continues to progress in his piano playing, and has even taken up the guitar. While I don’t imagine he will ever play for an audience bigger than myself and my husband, we enjoy his living room recitals. I love to hear the depth of connection he has to a song. I still feel he communicates best with me when singing or plucking out a few chords. I love having the ability to communicate with him anyway I can!