"Thank you god for _____." is the simple prayer we say as a family before dinner. We always take a moment to voice the things we are most thankful for. This blog is my thank you prayer to all of Country Music for your very special role in my son's life. The unique combination of one special kid diagnosed with autism and his love of Country music is magical to witness. It's healing both of us in ways I could never have imagined.
Country music has become the bridge between a brilliant and often misunderstood child, to the world. I can't imagine a greater gift!
"I am Jason Aldean," he said one fine February afternoon. And so it began, a multi-year journey of my son adamantly advocating for himself as a country music artist.
He's been just about every country music icon you can think of, from old country artists like George Jones and Jonny Cash to new artists like Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett. He started with the current male artists, (Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney. . .), eventually he added in the women, (Carrie Underwood, Reba, Martina McBride, Raelynn. . .)
Fall came just as he hit a 6 week Taylor Swift phase (I mean who doesn't). That was over Halloween so of course my son dressed up as Taylor Swift, for trick or treating, complete with a long blonde wig and sparkly guitar. I was backing him up in my best Miley Cyrus costume!
Soon he was on to bands like Rascal Flatts and Parmalee, and Little "Pig" Town. He figured out the proper name once he began reading.
More recently he's been into Y2Kountry and the Garth Chanel (thanks to XM Radio), with the likes of Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence and Mark Chesnutt. I can assure you the number of mullets in ever increasing in our growing CD collection!
And just so you know my son is not 'pretending', he is 'for-realsing".
When this all began, my son wouldn't give his forever name to anyone, only his current country name. Teachers, therapists, grandparents, starbucks baristas and myself were all required to call him by his latest country singer name.
Some might call it an obsession, I call it a love. He has found a language to speak in the form of music, country music to be specific. Through this language he is able to communicate with a world he doesn't always fit neatly into.
My little "Tim McGraw" was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old.
When he started TK (Transitional Kindergarten) at 4 years old, he didn't answer any of the teachers questions for the first 3 months.
At the park, he played exclusively with me until he was 6 years old; ignoring, as though blind, to other children invitations to play and interact.
My son has had to learn how to play, how to pretend, how to read social cues others seems to pick up effortlessly. He has met and exceeded every goal we've set for him. One step at a time, he is accessing the world.
Now, with country music, his world has become limitless.
My son talks with anyone about country music. He also talks to anyone with a baby, then proceeds to introduce one of his "babies". "I have babies", he says with excitement he can hardly contain, "This is baby Trisha Yearwood and this is baby Brad Paisley." Most people then ask if he likes country music, to which he responds, "I like all that country stuff!" and a conversation grows.
It all started with a playlist on my phone. In 2012, I was creating a new life after divorce and I started counrty line dancing as a way to find joy and make some friends. One day my son found that playlist and something clicked.
My boy learned to read by looking at the songs. I knew he would soon learn to sight read "whiskey" and "beer", but I knew I could handle that, so I let him continue. Within a month he had memoized all the artists, and songs, and which albums they were on. Then he memorized the track numbers and which songs could be found on multiple albums. I was awed to find he had learned the song times (length).
We were counting how much money a few iTunes songs would cost and came up with a total of $5.19. My son looked at me and said. "5:19 just like the Eric Church song". I was confused and intrigued. "Show me", I prompted. He proceeded to show me the proof on iTunes. The song he was referring to, Mr. Misunderstood, was 5 minutes 18 seconds. I questioned him. He said "It's 5:19 on Grandpa's Kindle." He was right.
At this is the point I realized I could not keep up with his memory, the best I could do was to help harness his powers for good!
Through these songs, albums, and cover art we are able to practice so many skills. Skills that are not easy for him to learn naturally became easier to practice.
We have turned country music into a game we are constantly playing.
The "Country Music" Games We Play while Building Social Skills:
"Who am I?" he poses just so, a mirror of the Shania Twain, Come On Over album cover art, with his had to his forehead and head tipped back. "Shania!!" I rely with enthusiasm. He poses with his right shoulder leaning on the wall, "Who am I now?" I reply, "Blake Shelton!!"
"Song number two is off Garth Brooks' third album. It was released in 1991", my son tells me as I write the name of the song, Shameless, on the paper. This is how he practices writing, making our own CD covers and playlists. We take turns writing. Sometimes I have to write the entire album, and sometimes he writes just the r's and o's.
"Boom chicka boom ticka pphta, cat ticka uhhh uhhh", the noises come effortlessly from his mouth in a percussive fashion. It sounds odd if you don't know what he's doing. It probably looks like nonsense to most, like some kind of obsessive autistic ism (stim). This noise it has a distinct purpose, this is how he plays, pretending to push the song on the playlist as if it's a button. Immediately he begins a percussive cover of the song at hand. Surprisingly accurate, sometimes I can guess what song he is "beatboxing" without any hints.
Jacob had never shown much interest in physical activity such as scootering or bicycling. The cross body coordination of activities like this had been challenging even at 7 years old. Yet, it simply took my son finding a new song with cover art depicting artist Brett Eldredge riding a scooter on one foot, and suddenly Jacob wanted to scooter. I followed his lead and we began scootering a few days a week before his group therapy session. We had a great time riding to the nearby church and playing hide-and-go-seek. My son is better at scootering then he is at hiding!
There are so many more examples. So many more amazing creative, fun and interesting ways we have been able to incorporate country music into our life and into Jacobs autism recovery & therapy. (Find more articles and videos here)
Thank you to "All That Country Stuff!!" We Love Y'all!!
Lindsey and my son "Sara Evans" (aka. Jacob)