75: Music Is His Voice

75: Music Is His Voice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Music Is His Voice

Music is the universal language of mankind.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Music is a very important part of our son’s life. In fact, at a recent karate lesson, John asked his teacher, “Do you know ‘The Reflex’?” His teacher was not familiar with John’s new favorite song, “The Reflex” by Duran Duran. In typical John fashion, he was stunned that his teacher did not know about “his music.” He promptly asked me to make a karate mix to introduce his teacher to “The Reflex.” We have come such a long way, I thought.

It’s not easy to go back to that time—the time before the diagnosis. Our precious Johnny was different from the other toddlers in our group of friends. We would go to playgroups and I would feel so isolated and lonely because all of the other moms were talking about the milestones their kids were achieving: potty training, reciting the alphabet, making animal sounds, etc. My son was not achieving these milestones. Heck, he could barely talk! Even at two years old, I had to translate John’s special language for everyone because no one could really understand him.

I wished I had the key to unlock my son. Then one day, we turned on the Disney Channel and the most miraculous thing happened to our family—The Wiggles! If you’re not in the know, The Wiggles are a children’s musical group from Australia. As soon as we turned on The Wiggles for the first time, John began to dance. It was almost like there was an instant connection between John and this brand new type of music. Could The Wiggles be the key?

The Wiggles became John’s obsession, although I prefer the term “special interest.” We bought their DVDs and CDs, and on the night before he was supposed to start preschool, we attended our first Wiggles concert.

I never thought I would say that a Wiggles concert was amazing, but it was! John was mesmerized by the light show and we sang along to the songs. The look of sheer and utter joy on my son’s face was almost too much for me. I teared up throughout the concert and tried to swallow my love and gratitude for this lovely band that brought my son to life.

On the next day, John started preschool. I let him wear his new Wiggles T-shirt and I really thought that the T-shirt was a kind of suit of armor, one that would protect him and give him comfort when I could not be there for him. He jumped into the classroom and started “talking” to everyone about the “Errrgles.” No one knew what the heck he was talking about. As usual, everyone looked at me, and I said, “He’s talking about The Wiggles.” Oh! And there was a connection for the teacher to engage John. Yay!

The year passed, and although John had differences, we thought he was doing quite well at school. We were lulled into a sense of comfort, until the Christmas party during his second year of preschool that changed everything.

I was very happy as I drove to the preschool that day to volunteer at John’s Christmas party. John’s classroom was decorated beautifully: green and red paper chains were all over the room, and paper snow-flakes filled the ceiling and walls of his cheery classroom. Games were set up, and all of the children were excited—all the children except my son. John was extremely detached from the action. He did not even really respond when I walked into the classroom with his sister, Colleen. He sat alone in the corner of the room. My world collapsed. What was going on?

Even though I prodded, John would not participate in any of the games. Rather, he wanted to stare into a seemingly empty fish tank. The difference between John and the other students was glaring and vast. I felt myself wanting to cry. When I asked the teacher if John participated in school activities, she said, “Well, no. John is very sweet. But John likes to sit in the corner and watch the hermit crabs.” I was shattered. What was going on? It seemed that John was becoming more and more detached from the world.

After that revealing day at school, I made an appointment with a developmental pediatrician. After that appointment, we had our answer. John was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in March 2010. Although I should have been relieved, I believed it would have been easier to suffer a gunshot wound. I was traumatized because after every other diagnosis—speech delay, sensory processing disorder—I thought, well, at least it’s not autism. Autism became somewhat of a death sentence in my mind. It was a scary disorder about which I knew nothing, yet I feared it more than anything.

Months went by, and with the help of his new language stimulation school and The Wiggles, life was getting better. We were able to talk and dance, and his meltdowns occurred a little less frequently. It was at this time I needed to ask for a favor—not from my parents, my husband or my siblings. No, I had to write The Wiggles for a favor. Using some “Mama Bear Magic” as my friend called it, I wrote a letter to The Wiggles. I explained how John was diagnosed with autism and how their music was truly the only way we were able to connect to our sweet little boy for many years. Now he was learning to talk and I just wanted to share my appreciation with them. We had concert tickets for the upcoming Wiggles concert, and I wondered if John would be able to meet them, live and in person.

I received a wonderful letter back from The Wiggles. They said they would love to meet John and gave us backstage passes to meet them. Oh my gosh! I was so excited. Things were coming together!

Well, anyone with a child on the spectrum can attest to this fact: nothing happens like you think it will happen. We went to meet The Wiggles and John was so astounded to meet them that he couldn’t speak. In fact, he hardly shook their hands. He seemed to be in a trance, which I mistook for indifference. So, I thought he didn’t get anything out of this magical meeting. However, just before The Wiggles exited, John yelled out “Wake up, Jeff” to Jeff Wiggle. Jeff turned around, laughed and gave John a big thumbs up! Yes! Victory! John met his idols and gathered enough courage to speak. I was one proud Mama Bear.

Is everything perfect now that John is older? No. But I have learned that there is hope in the unseen. All you have to do is be open to the unexpected inspirations that surface in everyday life; even if they are a bit “Wiggly.”

~Elizabeth Adinolfi West

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