by Shari Krishnan, Our Children Left Behind, July 19,
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Quote: The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no
tears. Native American Proverb
I have to share with you a story about the happiest journey I've
ever taken. This story was made possible thanks to my sweet son,
Nicholas, who has autism. It is he who delivers the brightest
rainbows I will ever witness.
He was about eighteen months old when my beautiful perky son was
taken hostage by autism. Nicholas stopped speaking and lost that
special baby twinkle in his eyes. The university hospital
labeled him as one of the most aloof children they had ever
seen, due to his severe case of autism. It would be years before
he'd deliberately gaze in any particular direction or even look
at me again.
After realizing that this thing called autism would be a
lifelong disability, and that all attempts at "fixing" my boy
weren't working to any great extent, music became our great
connector. While Nicholas couldn't speak, he could sing. And
when I wanted him to "converse" with me, I'd use hand drums. I'd
tap. He'd tap. I'd tap tap da tap tap. He'd tap tap da tap tap,
looking at me in anticipation for the next beat the whole while.
The drums spoke for and to us.
Let's fast-forward to the summer before Nicholas entered the 5th
grade. Nicholas was going to be starting a new school, along
with all of the other 5th graders in the district. We received a
telephone call from the school's band teacher. He was describing
the benefits of having Nicholas join the school band at an early
age, since it would be harder for him to catch up later if we
delayed. While I was thrilled with what I was hearing, in the
back of my mind I was wondering if he knew that my son had
autism. So, as the weights of reality were pounding in my chest,
I asked the question, "Do you know who my son is?" And I
received an unexpected response that would change our lives and
nurture our family's dreams: "Yes, I know Nicholas. He has
autism. I taught his choir in kindergarten. Now, what instrument
were you thinking of for Nicholas?" I responded to the band
teacher, "Well, what do you play?" He replied, "Drums." So be
it. Nicholas is a drummer.
For two glorious years now, Nicholas has played bass drum and
marimba in the band. He has had the good fortune to have a band
teacher with an amazing determination to understand and work
with Nicholas. Additionally, Nicholas' general education
teachers and paraprofessionals have helped out in practice and
at concerts. His school principal also allowed Nicholas to take
choir with one of the finest choir teachers on earth so that his
music theory skills would be enhanced. Today, thanks to an
entire school team, Nicholas can read music and has perfect
Armed with fabulous recommendation letters from Nicholas' music
teachers and school principal, I decided to test our luck to see
if Nicholas could be accepted to one of the finest music camps
in the country, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. It was the same music
camp that I attended when I was a kid, so I always wished that
Nicholas could go there too. Needless to say, I was absolutely
thrilled when the camp's empathetic director was willing to
accept Nicholas and work with us to make the experience rich and
meaningful for all. Just a few months later, we packed our
drumsticks, practice pad, snare, and backpack guitar and headed
off to music camp.
We were invited to the camp a day early to offer an orientation
to the camp staff regarding Nicholas and his autism. Nicholas
also had an opportunity to demonstrate some of his special
talents. The staff would sing out notes, and Nicholas would name
them. The staff would name notes, and Nicholas would sing them.
He played some tunes on his guitar. As staff would beat rhythms
on the picnic table, Nicholas would respond with the same. Music
now connected Nicholas to strangers. Relationships were emerging
based on Nick's very own skills, not mine. It felt so good. That
evening, as Nicholas and I sat on a swing overlooking the
sunset, I looked at him and silently wept tears of joy for his
successes that day. We were off to an excellent start.
When the campers arrived the next day, the camp staff talked
with them about Nicholas and how they could help him. And boy,
did the campers ever listen! They helped Nicholas beyond all
expectation for two weeks straight. The young fellow musicians
helped Nicholas with his instruments, talked with him (even
though he often didn't say a word in return), played with him,
helped him on and off stage, and would consistently greet him.
The staff and campers extended open invitations to all
activities. The kids even made me, a mom at camp (how creepy is
that? LOL), feel welcome at all times.
The band teacher was just as accommodating as the rest of the
staff and campers. She ordered a second bass drum, a flat one
that could rest on its side. That way, Nicholas could easily
watch the conductor and sit on a chair to play. If Nicholas sat
out a song for any reason, the other bass drummer could still
cover the part and the band would play on as usual. This wise
educator showcased Nicholas' perfect pitch talents to the other
band members whenever it was naturally possible. Soon, Nicholas
earned the respect of the other campers as a musician, in his
own right, thanks to the help of a thoughtfully caring educator.
We explained to everyone that the goals of having Nicholas at
Blue Lake were to help him have a fine musical experience and be
able to see how other 12 year olds play and interact with each
other. It was more about the process of making music and friends
than performance orientation. Performance would be just the
cherry on top of a delicious camping experience. And that it
Needless to say, Nicholas and I felt that we were in paradise.
Two weeks just flew by. Nicholas fully and successfully
participated in the final concert. The smile on Nicholas' face
and glee in his eyes could not have been more expressive. Fellow
musicians were lined up to say goodbye and to introduce Nicholas
to their parents. The glorious staff invited our family out to
lunch afterward, and the Camp Director invited Nicholas back
next year. At those very moments in time, life was perfect.
Nicholas has given me an unbelievable gift these past few weeks.
He made one of my original dreams* that I had for him come true;
one of those dreams that I thought I'd have to write off, simply
because I thought that it could never happen to my once
incredibly aloof son. But it did.
Nicholas once again tested my own assumptions and attitudes
about what is possible. He also reminded me that learning is a
lifelong process and that others, especially Blue Lake's staff,
fully understood this. It was a colorful collection of positive
attitudes toward my son and me, at school and at camp, that was
the catalyst for these magical possibilities.
While driving down the dusty road through the woods, taking my
budding musician further and further away from camp, I saw
rainbows through the tears of joy, gratitude, and my renewed
faith in Nicholas' own unique abilities to open doors for
himself and others.
Shari Krishnan, today's
firstname.lastname@example.org (and a very proud
©2004 Our Children Left Behind.
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