Here's a question for you to get your brains in gear!
What does my first official book signing and a terrific rock band propelled by teenagers with special needs and great chops have to do with today's rambling?
Lots! -and then some! I spent much of my Saturday at a multi-state conference for music therapists and college students hoping to join their ranks. During lunch, some remarkable musicians with special needs performed for an enthusiastic crowd. The band included a Joan-Jett-like singer who put Bucky from the current season of American Idol to shame. Talk about being inspired, and focusing on abilty -wow!
Until the conference, I had alsolutely no idea what I was going to rant about this week. I was already past due per my deadline-driven mind, so I had to remind myself loudly that I am the only one calling the terms on this blogging gig! The months (years) of non-stop writing to realize the publication of Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs, and far too much solitude, had left me craving a little break in the writing department (and with a JLO-imposter behind!). Lately, I've been experiencing a little bit of the dreaded writer's block, but I know it will pass eventually-- as will the behind with a bit of work.
The fact that I am now an author who has climbed the big publishing mountain and jumped all the hoops required to see my book on bookstore shelves (then turned out impressive promotion materials in short order), meant nothing as I faced the empty page. Procrastination hadn't magically disappeared from my writer's vocabulary simply because my name and face were now on a book (although being called an author sure does soothe the blank mind and tender ego and make you feel a bit like a rockstar)!
In reality, I was tired of writing and I wanted to go do something else for a change, like shop for new shoes, go have a beer with friends (and I don't even drink beer!), or watch Under the Tuscan Sun and sigh. I was acting like a spoiled child who wanted her own way again. My approach clearly wasn't working (ya hear me, Dr. Phil??).
Oh, there was no shortage of topics to rant about this week -like the dad who in his rush to board his commuter train to Washington D.C. left his seven-month-old child in the car at the train station (there aren't enough words)! Then there was the media flap over an alleged Nicole Richie social faux paux (wasn't she raised in priviledge -or is this real problem?). This event involved uttering a suggestive profanity inappropriately toward an unsuspecting young boy (is it really that tough to figure out basic right and wrong in today's world, especially where young children are involved?). Or are all societal boundaries now up for grabs? I sure hope not.
When I read that the boy's father had refused to sign a release to air the tasteless interchange, it gave me renewed faith in parenting and I found myself shouting out kudos at the computer screen- You Go Dad!! I gave him five stars for taking his role as parent seriously, a too rare occurrance in today's media-obsessed, pop-culture, I wanna be your friend, not your parent and our you-can-just-change-the-channel world! The continued dumbing down of society as modeled expertly by what is supposed to be our future leaders (and what should be our best and brightest young people), who also happen to be pretty big role models for our youngest, is a reality that infuriates me and leaves me with far too many questions for which I have no answers (although I usually try to fake 'em).
But here's one answer: Parents: teach your kids the basics of being decent human beings, okay?? Things like the simple concept of basic right and wrong, and good manners and issues involving self respect and human dignity (and tell them stories about all their ancestors who fought so relentlessly for our basic civil rights, causes many people must still fight for today). But I digress, and this topic is definately for another blog, another day. So let's return to today's topic, shall we?
As usual, this week there was no shortage of shake-your-head life moments to choose from. Yet, somehow I wanted to use my forum for something more news worthy, more human, more life altering. I wanted to share information that could help change kids lives.
So here you go, two simple words -and they aren't profane. Music Therapy.
Research strongly suggests that music therapy holds the power to impact the brain and development in positive ways, especially for those with a wide range of special needs.
All of us have a story about how music has impacted our lives in powerful ways, right?
But it is what I saw music and music therapy do for my son who had cerebral palsy that first sold me on this profession, and made me a true believer in the power of music. Eric took part in the remarkable program for seven years, before passing away suddenly in 2003 at age 12. Because of this profession, my son's talent for music was both uncovered and nutured, and Eric was composing music before he died. Music added such richness and purpose to my son's life, and to his development. Eric had a significant disability, but he was a musician and a kid first.
In my short list of programs that I believe are a must for many children with special needs, music therapy is right up there. So when asked to present for this conference, and hold a book signing, I readily and enthusiastically agreed. I wanted to say thanks by presenting a session that highlighted the human results of the work these professionals do each day, as I told my son's amazing story. I also wanted and needed to take in the smells and sounds of an event that I knew would remind me of my son's life and face and laughter. And that's exactly what I savored -and more.
The Great Lakes Region of the American Music Therapy Association annual conference was hosting nearly 300 professionals and music therapy students who were networking and sharing individual expertise in order to help clients with special needs make important life gains, no matter how small, no matter the tough challenges presented. Many were committed to improving the lives of those with autism. The heart and passion of so many in attendance was contagious and inspiring and gave me hope for the future of our kids.
It was one of those events where the actions of people who are trying hard to make a difference in the world left me asking this question: what would happen if all the people who misuse their privilege and education and money were to instead turn their focus from frivolity and self-centered pursuits of fleeting happiness and easy fame to those efforts that best used their energy and smarts for the good of others? Imagine the power we could harness to change the world, or at least a small piece of it. Imagine what we could do for those needing our support?Altruistic, maybe. So what? I've seen the results of such focus. They are often magical.
Traffic at my table was brisk as each book purchaser readily shared a story about the work they do each and every day. So many thanked me for writing the book to help families. More than one said they were buying it to pass on to a parent in dire need. I thanked them all for their commitment to their clients, while also reminding them of the importance of reading it themselves first. We each have much to learn from one another.
One of my biggest missions with this book is to help parents and professionals work together more productively, and with less grief. We must model increasingly positive, respectful teamwork if our children are to thrive. In this place, on this day, I experienced the role of these outstanding professionals as my comrades, teammates to be embraced and celebrated, not as an enemy to be avoided whenever possible. That misguided perception of the title 'professional' is held by too many parents. As is the often inappropriate definition of 'parent' by the professional ranks. We both play a role in this unfortunate interchange, and it must change.
Saturday's experience left me with a renewed commitment to bring what are often opposing sides together in positive, respectful, caring ways that can help change children's lives for good. I am passionate about this work. It must be done if all children are to live better lives, period. No more excuses from the adults in their world for giving them anything less.
Music holds the power to transform all of our lives. It was true for my son; it is true for me; and at Saturday's conference, it was true for all those in attendance. As a writer, I sing with words. These professionals sing with great heart for a population that is too often undervalued and misunderstood. I applaud their work, their passion and their commitment. I applaud them. Like a parent trying to work through the roughest parenting patch to create a better world for their children with disabilities, the work of these music professionals is not always easy.
Truth be told, few programs can cause me to shout to the heavens about the incredible promise they hold for kids with special needs. Last Saturday, I was again reminded of why I love music therapy, and while no one profession can offer a panacea treatment for children with special needs or their families, this one sure comes close.
Tell someone you know and love about music therapy this week. It may just change a child's life -and your own.
Wouldn't that be grand??