Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Autism Understanding & Acceptance 2014 Day 23: Unexpected Singing

Another question was posed to me recently, by a dear friend who has known me - and my love of singing - since we were in middle school.  "I am wondering how you, a vocal performance major/former professional singer handles the bad reactions to singing. Do you sing at home and is that okay with T?"

Well, there is the superficial answer and then the deeper one.   So let's start just on the surface: he is okay with me singing with my professional voice.  He actually joins me or echoes me on my warm-ups and it is so darn funny that my heart just melts.  Sometimes, if he's in a really good mood, I can sing arpeggios way up to the top of my range and then sustain the top note, and he smiles, covers his ears and laughs and laughs.  He loves it.  So he is okay with me singing at home, but most of the time it is only with my classically trained voice.  There are some nights before he goes to bed that I can sing him lullaby after lullaby, and he snuggles with me and sings along occasionally.   Precious moments to me.  So these are the situations where singing is okay.

And as I posted earlier this month, he is okay with most of the singing in church.  (There was one time that the youngest children's choir attempted to sing but ended up shouting & yelling most of the song, which completely undid him.  We had to leave the sanctuary because he started crying & screaming himself.)  He tolerates the voice lessons that I teach, but increasingly he just heads to the basement.  When he was about 5 years younger, he'd actually sit and listen to a lesson.  

He was okay with his Kindermusik classes during his preschool years, and he still stuns me occasionally by suddenly singing one of those Kindermusik songs that we haven't heard in 7-9 years.  Music has a deep impact on him.   I think that part of what is going on is that he wants to have control over this very intense experience his body goes through when hearing music.  

When it is not okay to sing: any other type of singing around the house.  No fun songs, no whistling, no happy children's tunes, nothing.  No singing of the Doxology before a meal at a family gathering.  No singing Christmas carols around the piano with the family.  Transition music between stories on NPR: not okay.  Singing on commercials: nope.  Singing guests on Good Morning America: no.  Stories on the news that involve singing: nope.  Singing during Youth Group: no.  And when I say no, I mean that his hands go over his ears, his eyes get very wide and intense, he hums loudly so he can't hear the offending sounds, and when it is done, he'll look at me and say "It's all gone" repeatedly...and that's is if he's in a good mood.  If he's already on edge, the phrase "it's all gone" turns into crying and yelling, having what I describe as an out-of-body experience.  It's a good 15 minutes and sometimes longer before he is back.  

So this is a huge deal in our lives.

Going deeper, this is one aspect of our life that I would change in a heartbeat if I could.  It breaks my heart.  He has such a tremendously gifted ear and sings beautifully, but won't let anyone join him.  The first time the children's choir sang at church, I felt like my heart was being ripped out.  My son, with a gorgeous voice and nearly perfect pitch, could not be up there.  And the sorest cut: I assumed that I would sing with my child(ren) for the rest of my life.  I don't want to be too dramatic or post anything negative about my beautiful gift of a child.  This does have a tremendous impact on our lives multiple times a day, and I wish, oh how I wish he could be relieved of the apparent pain and fear that goes along with unexpected singing.  

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