"Where words fail, music speaks..."
Hans Christian Anderson
I watch him every morning at his sister’s school. Singing and drumming with his chop sticks on his little red cushion. I see the children gathering, watching and listening. I hear some of them say hi. Sometimes he gives them a nod and continues to sing and drum. Other times he stops drumming for half a second and says hi back. I hear them say he has autism amongst themselves and then say he’s a really good drummer. There’s no actual conversation, there’s just music.
MUSIC IS LANGUAGE
Music is his language. It’s how he communicates best. I say best because he does communicate in other ways, he does speak, but he’s most comfortable when he’s making music.
If you're ever in a supermarket in Jamaica and you hear or see a boy singing in the aisles or in the line, it's probably my son. He sees a room full of people and wants to say hi or make a connection but doesn't feel comfortable doing that verbally so he starts singing. Sometimes he'll sing the Jamaican anthem, sometimes Shout by Tears for Fears, other times its Amazing Grace.
It takes too much effort to speak, to make those words come out. Especially when he’s focused on his music and in the zone. I can only imagine what’s going through his mind when interrupted to answer a question...maybe it's “Why do I have to speak? Can’t you see I’m busy trying to be me?”
To me it seems as if it’s exhausting and frustrating for him, when it’s easier to just sing what he wants to say. At times like this I do what’s necessary - I sing as well, I make up a rhyme, I do a jig or jingle annnnd tada success!
BOOKS WITH RHYTHM, WORDS THAT RHYME
I remember when he was about 2.5 years old and not speaking and we didn’t know what else to do but speech therapy. The therapist gave us exercises that included singing particular songs with him and recommended various books for us to read to him. The books that resonated with him the most were the rhyming ones, the ones that had rhythm and sounded like music to his ears. Books like Green Eggs and Ham and Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? We’d read these books over and over again and sing and dance to them even. We'd pause at certain intervals and encourage him to say words at particular points. Eventually he joined in, at first with just mumbles and then with actual words and soon thereafter he was reciting the whole book.
He would recite these books throughout the day and sometimes in the middle of the night! We weren't having conversations that a typical 3 year old would have with his parents but he was FINALLY talking.
He can now say "Good morning mommy, daddy, grandma etc," and he will tell you he is "good" when asked "how are you doing?". He will tell you if he is hot, cold, thirsty or hungry and will tell me "happy face mommy" if I look sad. If his sister is crying he'll go to her and sing a song about not being sad. Or if he knows he's done something to upset any of us he will promptly start singing "I'm so, I'm so sorry" which is a little song from one of his favourite shows. Some days you’llactually hear him speaking beautiful complete sentences like this morning when he so politely asked “Valerie can you please tie my shoe laces?”
He's still not able to have the typical conversations an 11 year old would have with his parents or friends but he speaks to us when he wants to and in his own way and we're ok with that, we get it.
I’m not a musician, neither am I a music therapist but as a parent, when I see the magic that happens with music - the windows and doors it opens for my son, I have to tap into it and use it!
Music has always been his biggest motivator. We use music to help teach him new things and it works. He also does drum, piano, and voice lessons. Why? because music is everything to him.
It has built his confidence and developed physical coordination between his feet, hands, eyes and breath. Music has also helped him and continues to help him to express his feelings and emotions which is important, when verbal communication doesn't come naturally for him. So, why not use it?
“I would teach children music....for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning" - Plato