I’m a talker about music rather than a musician myself-where the Blarney meets Beethoven. I’m also a parent. I know my way around the autism spectrum.
Put these all together and you get an abiding interest in music therapy and its uses for autistic kids.
I was turned on to this about ten years ago when looking for a new project. April is Autism Awareness Month. I proposed a one hour special on the uses of music therapy. Green lighted, I realized I knew very little about this. When in doubt, call an academic. I was eventually directed to Professor Louise Steele and her colleagues at Ohio University in Athens. Over the course of several days I sat in on a classes and on several one-on- one sessions. Each child was at a different “level.” Joey (6) had vestibular problems and no speech. Abe (9) had individual words but little comprehension. Cathy (4) could speak.
The process of re-wiring the brain through music to give autistic kids speech is painstaking, frustrating, exhausting and fantastic. Imagine after three months getting a kid with no words to look at you and say, “It’s a nice day.” I’ve seen it happen, and from small steps with a tambourine or rhythm sticks and a singing voice there are leaps to conversation and comprehension.
OSU has no Music Therapy program. We are blessed however, to have graduate study in music and cognition, led by the amazing David Huron-one of my heroes. Go find his book Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation. I’ll try to post an interview with him.
Last year I attended a huge autism conference here in Columbus. I arranged to meet a few people from OU. And there was Joey, now a strapping teenager. He looked me in the eye, said, “How’re ya doin’ Christopher?” and gave me a bear hug. I won the lottery.