I’m not a medical professional. Once upon a time, I was a board-certified music therapist but I let my board certification lapse when I had two babies in two years. Daycare wasn’t remotely affordable for one baby, let alone two.
When I was doing my music therapy internship, I did work briefly with some children with autism but all of my observations here are really coming as the mother of one specific autistic son.
So you know what they say…
If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.
That’s my disclaimer. Having said that, my anecdata (i.e. my focus group of precisely one 8 year old and a few of his friends) lately has me wondering if there’s something inherent to musical theatre that is appealing to the autistic mind.
My son has been taking an amazing class this fall at a theatre in the neighboring city. The class is called Just Right for Me and it’s an acting class for autistic children. When I mention this class in passing, there are two main reactions to the concept of teaching acting to children with autism. People who don’t have much interaction with autism say “What? Wow! What will they think of next?!” and people who know and love someone autistic say “That’s perfect.”
It is. Our son has learned at least as much, if not more, from this class than he has from any of his therapies.
We don’t have anything like this class in the town where we live so it’s a little bit of a drive every Saturday morning. I could quantify the drive in minutes or miles but it would be more relevant to tell you that, if one happened to be listening to the Broadway score of Sondheim and Lapine’s “Into the Woods”, it would take Act One to get there and Act Two to return home.
I thought I knew “Into the Woods” pretty well already because I’ve played in the pit for it more than once and I’ve seen it multiple times but I was wrong. I’m so often wrong.
Careful the wish you make, wishes are children
Careful the path they take, wishes come true,
The music stops abruptly. He has the iPod in the backseat with him and is in charge of the controls.
“Wishes are what?” comes from the backseat.
“Wishes are children…” I sing back to him.
“Children? Jack and Little Red are the children. They’re not wishes.”
I start to explain “It’s a metaphor. He’s saying that you can’t control a wish once it…” The music starts again. He doesn’t want my metaphor right now. Metaphors wear him out.
I try again later as we pull off the highway. The music has stopped and his face is pressed against the window.
“Have you ever gone into the woods, honey?”
“You mean Grasshopper Trail?”
“No, I mean…can you think of anything that you’ve done that has been like a journey?”
A long silence and then the orchestra is pounding out those quarter notes at the beginning of Act One.
I wish! More than anything, more than life!
He started the score over from the beginning again. My clumsy questions won’t lead us to enlightenment on my tidy timeline but the conversation isn’t over either. The woods will wait for us and we will always return. Over and over is how we do everything.