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Article of Interest - Inspiration

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Bridges4Kids LogoRainbow Maker
by Shari Krishnan, Our Children Left Behind, July 19, 2004
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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 pitch.

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 was!

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 (and a very proud mom, too!)

2004 Our Children Left Behind.


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