Every night before dinner we say a version of this prayer:
"Thank you god, for this lovely meal, for my family,
for peace in the world and for country music."
I have overwhelming gratitude to all of Country Music. You play a very special role in my son's life. The gift of your music is 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.
The unique combination of one special kid diagnosed with autism and his love of country music is magical to witness.
To say my son loves counrty music does not convey the depth to which he loves country music, not when you can use the word LOVE to describe your affection for tacos and your affection for your dearly beloved family member. How can I describe it?
Jacob loves country music like rain loves to fall.
Jacob loves country music like stars love the night.
Jacob loves country music like Toby Keith loves red solo cups.
"I am Jason Aldean," Jacob said one fine February afternoon. Jacob was 6 years old at the time. This was his first attempt at pretending to be someone else. Little did I know this was the beginning of an era.
For the next 18 months my son was a different country music artist EVERY SINGLE DAY. He demanded to be called by his country singer name. He often wouldn't even respond to his birth name. He was adamant that he WAS the artist of the day.
Jacob wasn't pretending he was "for-realsing". At school or church I had to give him name tags with both names on it, his country name and his forever name. Teachers began to get the jist and would ask him before class "Jacob, who are you today?" knowing that was the only way to get him to respond.
Jacob knows that names of hundreds of country artists and thousands of country songs.
He knows and which albums the songs are on.
He knows what the cover art looks like for each album.
He knows the track numbers for each of the songs and which songs can be found on multiple albums.
He knows the lengths (time) of hundreds and hundreds of songs.
He knows whose new albums are being released and on what date.
He is now learning what year the older albums were released.
Some people might call his passion for country music an autistic obsession, but I see it as a true passion. I am so glad he has a positive outlet for his incredible memory. He is learning stories about love and joy and pain, and he is learning all about life through country music.
The miracle I see so vividly is how his love of music has become a bridge to the world. Jacob was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old and at that time he did not respond to any questions. If someone would ask him, "whats your name?" he would stand and stare blankly ahead in silence, even though he knew his name.
He avoided eye contact and interaction with both adults and children. He didn't answer any questions at school and did not seem interested in anyone other than very close family members.
Social interaction was not easy for my son. Jacob has had to learn how to play, and how to pretend. He has had to have direct instruction to learn social cues others seems to pick up effortlessly, like shaking your head yes and no. He has met and exceeded every goal I've set for him. One step at a time, he is accessing the world.
Now, with country music, his world has become limitless.
Jacob's favorite place in the world is Dimple Records, our local used CD store. When Jacob arrives, he announces himself, making sure the employees know he is there. "Hello" he says effortlessly, "I'm going to go look at the CD's." he tells them. Many of the employees know him by name now. "Hi Jacob!" they reply. I guess there are not too many 8 year olds obsessed with CD's around these days.
My son talks with anyone about country music. Jacob also loves babies. Jacob will now approach someone with a baby, and introduce one of his (pretend) "babies". "I have babies", he says with excitement as he shows off his invisible infants. "This is baby Trisha Yearwood and this is baby Brad Paisley." Most people then ask Jacob if he likes country music, to which he responds, "I like all that country stuff!" and a conversation grows quite naturally. It's excellent social skills practice.
In the past year and a half Jacob has 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 popular male artists, like Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, eventually he added in the women, such as Carrie Underwood, Reba, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack. He has been bands like Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts and Alabama. He recently has a thing for George Strait, Toby Keith and Buck Owens. I could go on and on.
Last fall Jacob hit a phase where he was Taylor Swift for about 6 weeks. Halloween day my son dressed up as Taylor Swift, complete with a long blonde wig and sparkly guitar. I backed him up as Miley Cyrus. The wig was a bit of a miracle because of his sensitive sensory system. He hated hats and having things on his head yet, he wore the wig for about an hour while we were trick or treating with no complaints!!!
This all started with one little playlist on my phone. In 2012, I was creating a new life after my divorce and I started country line dancing as a way to express joy and make some friends. One day my son found that playlist and something clicked.
My boy learned to read by looking at the song titles on the phone. I knew If I let him continue he would soon learn to sight read both "whiskey" and "beer", but I knew would learn to read everything else, so I let him continue. Within a month he had memoized all the artists, songs, and albums that were on that playlist of about 50 tunes. Next Jacob memorized the track numbers and which songs could be found on multiple albums. After that I found out he knew 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. "This says 5:18 not 5:19?" 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!
Together my son and I have turned Country Music into a game and we are always playing. Here are some games we play:
Guess the cover art!
"Who am I?" he poses just so, a mirror of the Shania Twain, Come On Over album cover art, with his hand to his forehead and head tipped back. "Shania!!" I reply with enthusiasm. He poses with his right shoulder leaning on the wall, "Who am I now?" I reply, "Blake Shelton!!" Next, I put my feet to Jacobs tummy and fly him above me like superman. This is how we practice Brad Paisley's Wheelhouse cover.
Playlists and Playlists and Playlists:
"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 he writes out the entire album, and sometimes he writes just the r's and o's. Sometimes he lists all the times for a certain album, sometimes he changes the times of each song 10 seconds.
Jacob's Uniques Beatboxing Singing:
"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. He pretends to push the song on the playlist as if it's a button. Immediately Jacob begins a percussive cover of the song at hand. Surprisingly accurate, sometimes I can guess what song he is "beatboxing" without any hints.
Lets Go Scootering:
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 for him, even at 7 years old. Yet, all it took was my son finding a song with an album cover depicting Brett Eldredge riding a scooter on one foot, and suddenly Jacob wanted to give it a try.
I followed Jacob's lead and we began scootering a three days a week before his social group therapy. We had a great time riding to the nearby church and playing. A quick note here, my son is better at scootering then he is at hiding! We are still working on the fine art of hide-and -go-seek.
Geography, Cities and States:
"There's ocean front property in Minnesota." I sing to Jacob. "No there's not!" he laughs. "Where is the Florida Georgia Line?" I ask as we look at a map and finds cities like Little Rock, Austin and Baton Rouge, thanks to Reba, Blake Shelton and Garth Brooks. He know where to find himself a Mississippi Girl with the help of Faith Hill and if he ever wants to walk the streets of Bakersfield he knows its about 5 hours away in his home state of California.
Folsom, CA and the Jonny Cash Art Trail:
Jacob and I live in Folsom, CA, yep that Folsom, where the prison is. Actually we live quite close to the prison. I grew up here and I knew of Jonny Cash and heard the song Folsom Prison Blues a few times. When I was in elementary student the school bus actually stopped just outside the prison gates, to pick up kids and a prison guard walked the bus before we were able to leave the property. Like Joe Diffie says Life is Funny.
October 2017 marked the grand opening of the Johnny Cash Trail, a bike trail in town dedicated to the legend. The art installations will be installed soon in tribute to the Ring of Fire, Walk the Line and a park is planned with a huge guitar and statue of the Man In Black. All of this is within walking distance to our house! Soon we will be adding in country themed modern art into our routine. It's amazing how life give you blessing right outside your door.
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. We come up with new games all the time.
If you keep sharing your music, we will keep sharing our joy with you!
So with a great full heart of love, I say thank you to "All That Country Stuff"!!
For the Music, the Joy and the Miracles.
Lindsey and my son "George Strait" (aka. Jacob)