Autism-Related Articles, Books, Services

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


When Tommy was seven years old, a friend of ours made us a gift of a clarinet. Tommy was intrigued, and seemed interested in learning to play. So... I embarked on a multi-month process of looking for a teacher who would teach clarinet to a seven year old with autism and significant "behaviors."

We were lucky to find a very young woman who really didn't mind taking on a "different" student. In fact, she was already teaching a young teen with Asperger syndrome - and seemed to be taking it in stride. So Tom started learning.

His teacher thought, since he was so young (and we had a piano in the house) that she'd teach him a little piano at the same time. For the first months, Tommy basically shoved toys in to the bell of the clarinet - but he could blow it correctly, played a few notes, and seemed to really enjoy piano.

The down side was that he point blank refused to play ANYthing new in his lessons. So his teacher taught me - and I coaxed Tom - and he'd come to the next lesson with his new music pretty well learned. It was clear that he had a good ear, and over time he really got pretty proficient. What's more, he's never had a moment of stage fright - so has appeared in concerts, recitals and even talent shows over the years.

Last year, he started in 4th grade band - with me or Peter sitting next to him at every rehearsal and performance. He didn't need us for moral support - or even to help him cope with the timpani and cymbals located two inches from his head. He just needed a little extra help in staying focused on the music, finding the right measure, and flipping to the right page quickly.

Since music seems to be Tom's real talent and point of pride, we've put a lot of energy into helping him do well. Not long ago, Peter actually arranged for us to get a private backstage tour of the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia - and Tom got to play on the stage! (I think this may have been the first and last time such a thing was allowed... evidently the union was not thrilled.)

So before we arrived on Cape Cod, we did a lot of research to find him a clarinet teacher, a piano teacher, and an opportunity to play in some kind of ensemble. We found an older man with a tremendous talent and a great teaching style to work with Tom on clarinet. He has a piano teacher who seems to "get" him.

And he's playing with the 5th and 6th grade students at the middle school in a group called "hot jazz." With great courage, Peter simply told Tom to go ahead and sit up on the stage with the rest of the clarinets - and he did! From what we can tell (watching from the seats) he's handling it just fine. Of course, he practices his pieces with his private teacher - who can help him learn any new notes, new techniques, and so forth. And he's doing it! Of course, he has yet to exchange a single word or smile with another band member... but he's there. He's playing. And though he appears shy, he's very much a part of the band.

Last month, we learned from the clarinet teacher that Tom, who has a terrible time reading music (we have to label much of it with letters) and an even worse time reading half, whole and quarter notes, has perfect pitch. Now he's learning most of his music by ear: repeating and playing along with his teacher.

We are fondly hoping that, in a couple of years, he'll be able to play with the town band - which does march tunes and the like in the harborside band shell. And to be honest, I think he'll be able to do it! It's nice to have fond - and reasonably realistic - hopes and dreams for our boy... just like any other mom and dad.

1 comment:

AnnMarie said...

That is wonderful!!! I know what you mean. My son seems to have a knack for anything computers... which can also be bad but we try to focus and play up the good. Like how he can do more on a computer than his father. It really is nice to see the potential.