Children on the Autism Spectrum often find it difficult to process information gathered through their senses to appropriately react to them. My oldest son, who is on the Autism Spectrum, has such a Sensory Processing Disorder and struggles with a sensitivity to noise that usually prevents him from enjoying music.
Last year he wore noise-reducing headphones in his mainstream music class. A classmate made fun of his headphones and now he refuses to wear them. He then grew his hair long to cover his ears to muffle the sound around him. My son looks "normal"; he acts "normal" most of the time. He doesn't flap his hands or have other behaviors that are red flags for children on the Autism Spectrum. Many people don't realize he's on the spectrum until they spend time observing him. They then become aware of the behaviors that make him "odd."
At the playground while other children are laughing, running and playing, L can be found laying at the bottom of a slide talking to himself. This is something he does when he's over-stimulated by noise. In order to cope with the environment he needs to lay down and tune out. Because of his sensitivity to noise our family isn't able to enjoy musical concerts.
That is, until this past weekend, when we attended a concert performed by The Capitol Woodwind Quintet. The musicians are also members of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. A wonderful organization called Music for Autism allowed my family to enjoy a concert for the first time.
Music for Autism is raising public awareness and enriching lives through autism-friendly, interactive concerts developed specifically for individuals with autism and their families, according to the website.
The room was filled with children of varying developmental degrees of Autism. It didn't matter that L laid across two chairs with his head in my lap during the concert. No one batted an eye when a teenager approached the musicians and pretended to be a conductor. This was a safe space for all of us. Our kids who are often looked upon as "odd" were able to be themselves and enjoy wonderful music. After a beautiful compilation of songs the musicians wore costume pieces for the appropriate character that their instrument represented in the story—Peter and the Wolf.
The room was captivated, including my son. At the end of the concert, children were invited to choose an instrument and play along with the musicians.
It was a remarkable gift, an experience that we will hold dear in our hearts forever.