Ryan is living proof that music is born in you. From the time he was a baby, music enchanted him. Whether it was the musical mobile hanging above his crib, musical toys or the Baby Einstein Videos (good heavens how Dan and I wished those videos were longer than 30 minutes), music just made Ryan happy. So many things caused anxiety, fear, and confusion for him, but music, regardless of how loud it was played, made my boy happy.
We knew Ryan liked music, but it wasn't until he was two years old that we realized he must have inherited his daddy's gift of music and that my defunct, mutated music gene was not passed on to him. Dan (who will tell you he is not) is musically gifted. If they had an American Idol for middle aged (good Lord, we are middle aged) folks, Dan would make Simon Cowell smile.
Actually, it was when we were watching American Idol (the early years, when it was still good) that we discovered Ryan's gift. One of the contestants was singing Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and he was singing it fairly well. When the contestant sang the chorus the second time, so did Ryan...perfectly in tune, the right key and no Simon, he was not pitchy. Now remember, Denial and I were still wearing our BFF heart necklaces so I was freaking out that he knew the lyrics to a song he just heard for the first time. My husband and his music gene couldn't believe HOW Ryan sang it. Dan tried to explain to my tone deaf self that most people have to "slide into a note", but Ryan came in spot on perfectly every single time. Dan used an analogy to try and help me understand that sliding into a note is like trying to find the light switch on your bedside lamp in the dark. You start at the base of the lamp and keep reaching further and further up the lamp until you feel the switch. Ryan was feeling and finding the switch in the dark without searching for it every single time. Dan was freaking out and totally amazed meanwhile, I was stressing thinking, "just because he knew the words to that song after only hearing them once, but can't tell me two words about his day at daycare doesn't mean he is autistic". My nutso brain causes me to miss so much of the beauty that is right in front of me. Yes, I know there is a medication for that. Sigh...
Well, like any good neurotic mother, I pushed my concern aside and signed Ryan up for a music class called Music for Children. If he was going to be the next Mozart then we should begin training him early. The class was designed to introduce children to the wonderful world of music through singing songs, playing instruments and dancing and playing with friends. My poor musically gifted boy. He was not ready to share his gift yet and at the time, his pitiful mother was not aware enough of his poor sensory processing system.
I didn't understand why when we ran around in circles in a room with six or seven two year olds clanging symbols and banging drums he wasn't having a good time. How could a lover of music not like circle time with friends when everyone was singing, playing (pounding) instruments and touching their head, shoulders, knees and toes? I was still sitting next to my friend Denial and my new friend Clueless in circle time. Miss J was our sweet, wonderful teacher and every week while Ryan fell to the floor in a musically overstimulated heap, she assured me he was "just fine", but I worried that he wasn't. All the other children were happy and smiling. Ryan was upset, sometimes crying and now I know, being extremely defensive. Too much sensory input and a system that couldn't break it down properly. At the end of each class I swear my poor boy ran up those church basement steps as fast as he could to escape what I believed would be a beautiful musical experience and what to him felt like being in a room full of kids scraping their nails down a chalkboard while poking him with a cattle prod. I kept thinking each week he would like it better, but every week as I made that right hand turn, my little GPS would shout, "No, no, no Miss J's class". Poor tortured fella. That class cost a lot of money so the torture continued.
About three months after Ryan started piano lessons, I was snuggled in bed with Emma reading her a book. The end of the book had a lullaby that I have been singing to all three kids in the same tune for years. It includes a musical score, but since I can't read music, it could have been written in Arabic. Ryan walks into the room and quickly looks at the lullaby and says in his "bossy" voice, "You are singing that wrong" and then proceeds to hum a beautiful lullaby that of course, sounded nothing like what I had been singing for years. Dan just happens to walk into the room at this point and is quite impressed so he decides to test Ryan. "Ryan, do you know this note?" as he points to a note. Ryan hums a beautiful note. They do this repeatedly with several other notes and Dan's smile keeps getting bigger and bigger. Dan makes us move the show to the piano. He randomly picks a note and asks Ryan to sing it. Ryan does as instructed and then Dan hits the same note on the piano keys. For someone as musically challenged as myself, even I knew that Ryan's note mimicked that key on the piano perfectly! This went on a few more times and Dan starts freaking out, tears in his eyes, yelling, "He has perfect pitch!". I had no idea what that meant, but I kept jumping up and down smiling like an idiot.
Perfect, or absolute pitch, "is the ability to recreate or identify a given musical note without the benefit of an external reference" (thank you Wiki). This gift Ryan has been given explains why when he was two, he didn't have to "hunt" for the note when singing Elton John's song, he already had the note in his head. Dan explained how rare having perfect pitch is and how jealous, yet proud he was of his "apple didn't fall far from the tree" son. Studies show that approximately 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch. It's not suprising that little parrots like my boy who have an autism spectrum diagnosis have a much greater likelihood of such a gift than the average neurotypical. Apparently the trauma of his early Music for Children Class did not damage his music gene.
It's funny how life sometimes comes full circle. Miss J, who forever told me Ryan was "just fine" as we spun in circles clanging tambourines while he screamed, "no, no, no" is now his elementary school music teacher. She is as fond of him now as she was when he was a freaked out overstimulated toddler. Miss J has also witnessed the music that was born into my boy as she is also his chorus instructor. She enjoys the love Ryan has for music and his beautiful voice. She has tried on numerous occasions to convince him to sing a solo piece in one of their performances, but to no avail. Ryan may not be ready for the spotlight, but he sings his heart out when he is on stage with the other fifth graders. As I watch and wave my arm off, my face breaking from my giant enormous smile at my handsome, happy son on that stage, I feel a sense of pride that I can't begin to describe. The anxious little boy who once thought a church basement full of inept drumming toddlers was hell on Earth, can now get on stage with over 100 smelly kids, bright lights shining in his face and sing with the best of them. Some things, however, do not change. After his last performance, once we left the building and he felt the cold night air hit his face he breathed a huge sigh of relief and exclaimed, "Finally! Now I can breath...it was so tight and squishy up there!" Aaaaaaand.....we're back.
Music is a beautiful gift for my son. He can enjoy music alone, it doesn't take a team, it doesn't require eye contact, it doesn't take a great deal of social interaction. Music is his, not Kyle's, not Emma's...Ryan's. This gives him confidence and pride. Someday he may be ready for his solo and to share his gift with others, but for now, I will rejoice while he sings in the shower the latest musical adaptation of his favorite video game only to be interrupted when he freaks out screaming because he got shampoo in his eyes, ears or any other body part besides his hair. If he never chooses to share his voice for anyone but me, I will not cry about a missed opportunity, but delight in my ability to sit quietly and listen. It's like spotting a rare bird in it's natural habitat. As much as you want to prove the bird exists, the risk of snapping a photo to share with others may spook it and the moment will be lost as the bird flys away. So I must enjoy Ryan's song and let it fill my soul for this moment too will pass soon. For it won't be long until I'm singing with Adele and my gifted boy will tell me for the 20th time, "sorry Mom, but your voice is terrible and you never sing in tune". He may not be a contestant on the next American Idol, but he sure could fill Simon Cowell's shoes.