Musically Speaking: My Autistic Son's Journey Using Music
By Francene Noel | Published on October 12, 2020 | 9 Minute Read
My husband and I, along with our 18 month old son Zachary, moved to Canada for my husband’s job several years ago. During our time there, our son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and we had to make some smart choices about getting him the right therapies as early as possible. Not having family around and living in a new country, the writing was pretty much on the wall, going back to my profession (law) was definitely not a priority at the time, and a decision was made to stay at home and focus on him and his therapies rather than return to work as planned.
Looking back, even though I didn't know it then, this was the start of me advocating for my son.
About three years ago we moved back to our home country Jamaica and quickly realised how much more work needs to be done regarding autism awareness and acceptance there. I started blogging and created a website as well, sharing our family’s journey while raising awareness and encouraging more acceptance of individuals with special needs.
My goal has always been to encourage families facing an autism diagnosis and those caring for someone with autism. Making sure they know they are not alone on this journey and that there is life and joy after an autism diagnosis.
It’s been about ten years since my son was diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder, with very limited expressive language. He has come a long way since then and can now, to a certain extent, tell me how he’s feeling and have a somewhat semi-scripted simple conversation with me and others, if motivated enough to do so.
Music has always motivated my son. We discovered this soon after his diagnosis and have used music many times to help teach him new things. It always works. In fact a lot of his language was learnt through the use of music.
Music is usually 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 singing and making music. It’s almost as if music is his first language and english his second.
His love for music, and natural talent in it is what sets him apart - it’s his special super power and it’s everything to him.
If by any chance you’re in a supermarket in Jamaica and you hear or see a teenage 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 you’ll hear him singing an anthem or two, sometimes a Maroon 5 song, other times it's Amazing Grace, you name it he’ll sing it.
"If by any chance you’re in a supermarket in Jamaica and you hear or see a teenage boy singing in the aisles or in the line, it's probably my son."
I think for him it just 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 we interrupt him to answer a question...maybe it's “Why do I have to speak? Can’t you see I’m busy trying to be me?”
Sometimes it seems as if it’s frustrating for him, and it’s just easier for him to sing what he wants to say. At times like this I sing as well, I make up a rhyme, I do a jig or sing a jingle and it’s pure joy for him because I am now speaking his language. Isn’t this acceptance?
My son taught himself to play the drums when he was about three and a half years old. We signed him up for formal drum lessons when he was about four or five years old and quickly realised thereafter that he not only loved playing the drums but other instruments as well. So we signed him up for piano and then eventually guitar, he even did voice lessons!
Why? Well I’m no musician, nor 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 no choice but to tap into it and use it!
Over the years I've seen how music has built my son’s 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.
I think of my son, his journey and his love for music and I can’t help but remember this quote by Hans Christian Anderson which says, “Where words fail, music speaks…” I don’t think he could've said it any better. Do you?
On my social media platforms, my main focus has been to show how music has helped my son and also to advocate for him by raising awareness about autism and encouraging acceptance. You can follow along on our journey on my website www.diaryofadrummerboysmom.com , on our Facebook page Diary Of A Drummer Boy’s Mom, and on our Instagram page @diaryofadrummerboysmom.
About the Author
Francene Noel is an Attorney-at-Law (not currently practicing) writer/blogger, autism advocate, and mother of two, living in Jamaica. She is a contributor for The Mighty and has also written articles for MPeople Barbados and B3 Parenting Magazine. She has been chronicling her family’s journey with autism for the past seven years writing and blogging about autism. It's become her lifeline and has given her a new purpose - raising awareness, encouraging acceptance and advocating for necessary accommodations. You can follow her autism parenting musings and experiences on www.diaryofadrummerboysmom.com ,
@diaryofadrummerboysmom.com on IG or Diary of a Drummer Boy’s Mom on Facebook.