The benefits of musical therapy are well documented today, but back in 1961 it was a different story. Musical therapy had been used to help soldiers returning from World War I and World War II who suffered from emotional trauma, but not so much for children.
That same year, when the specialist informed my mother that her youngest daughter, Janice, was brain damaged, probably blind and would never walk or talk, she refused to believe him. My mother, all 5’2” and 120 pounds of her flatly told him he was wrong. “I know she can see!” They never returned to that specialist again.
My parents brought Janice home to the family and decided, “We’ll just do the best we can for her.” They treated her like they treated the rest of us and involved her in all the family activities. My mother loved music and got it in her head that music might stimulate Janice’s brain. She kept a transistor radio near Janice, set to a local Seattle station and played music constantly for her. She sang and read to Janice from her infancy.
Janice didn’t speak until she was three years old. Her first words were “KJR Seattle channel 95”, the radio station she had listened to for so many years. Janice responded to music so much better than the spoken word that my mother would put her conversation with Janice to song. For instance, the nursery rhyme “Polly Put the Kettle On” became “Janice put your shoes on, Janice put your shoes on, Janice put your shoes on, We’re going to the store”.
Throughout her childhood Janice memorized and sang the words to hundreds of songs. She memorized the books we read to her and if we tried to skip a page, she would call us on it immediately. As an adult, she spoke before the Washington State Legislature on behalf of adults with disabilities.
There are several lessons from this story. 1) Doctors are human and make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. No one knows your child as well as you do. 2) Music really is magic and can touch even those deemed unreachable. 3) And as Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up”.
Today we have wonderful technology to help the disabled who can’t speak for themselves. iPad’s are just one piece of that technology.
What has helped you reach your child? I’d love to hear your story.