Singing Surprise

Singing

Sunday at church Emma and Ethan, along with their cousins, performed the special music for the congregation.  They sang, “How Great is Our God” and did a beautiful job. They blessed everyone with their praises to God but the biggest blessing was an unexpected vocalist that decided to join in. Caleb was sitting next to me and I noticed he was intently watching the other kids sing and attempting to sing along with them!

This is not the first time that we have noticed music helping Caleb find his voice.  A few months ago he discovered the twins karaoke machine and we were amazed at how well he did trying to sing every word as he watched the lyrics on the screen. Here he is singing along to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” on the karaoke machine. It’s one of his favorite songs!

What a blessing!  I know God has a plan for Caleb’s life and I am starting to think that this plan may include singing or music.

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You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Caleb’s school year is coming to an end and as we look back and reflect on this past year we are amazed at how well things turned out. I think back to last August when the school year was just starting and I remember our concerns over whether we were making the right decision or not. This was the first year that Caleb was mainstreamed into a general ed 3rd grade classroom.

This is scary for the parents of a child with Autism because you worry that other kids may tease your child or that your child will be so disruptive that the teachers, other students or parents will complain. Dwight and I were not sure how Caleb would adjust to being in a classroom and wondered if he would be happy and accept the new setting.

Change is always hard for a child with Autism and there were lots of changes for Caleb to adjust to. There would be a much larger class with more students and more noise and distractions. There would be a more rigid schedule with more academic demands and more rules to follow.

Dwight and I felt that it was very important to be open and honest with the Caleb’s classmates. We wanted to share with them what Autism was (and what it wasn’t) and also suggest ways they could include Caleb and communicate with him.

We visited the classroom the first week of school and gave a short talk to the class explaining that Caleb was like them in many ways : He likes pizza, swimming and Spongebob SquarePants.

Next we pointed out that there are some things that were “different” about Caleb:  He may flap his hands or make other gestures when he is excited. He cannot talk so communication is often difficult … these difficulties may cause Caleb to get frustrated and mad and he may cry or show other signs that he is upset.

We taught them some simple sign language that they might be able to use to talk to Caleb and gave them some games and activities he enjoys and ways they can play with him and interact with him. We told them that the reason we wanted to have Caleb in their class was not just for academic reasons, but also because Caleb needed to learn how to play and make friends. They all seemed eager to help Caleb and Dwight and I hoped that they would continue to have that enthusiasm throughout the year.

A couple months into the school year I went on a field trip with the class and I was amazed at how well Caleb was accepted. The students were all so helpful and kind to him and they would even give him high-fives and fist bumps. It was so neat to see how Caleb’s classmates interacted with him. He had made one special friend, Colin Lee, who really helped Caleb and told me that Caleb was his “best buddy”.

I think the students have gained a lot from Caleb being in their class too. One of the girls told me that she wants to be an aide or therapist and work with kids with Autism when she grows up. Most of these kids had never heard of Autism before Caleb came into their class. They were even a little scared of Caleb at first. But now they don’t even notice the differences in Caleb because they have become used to him and they accept him the way he is.

Caleb’s teacher, aides and support staff are wonderful and have really helped accommodate Caleb so he can be in the classroom with his peers. His teacher, Mr. Henry, has been amazing with Caleb. His flexibility and patience has helped Caleb feel welcome in the class and he has now started to look to Mr. Henry for instruction which is huge!

A few weeks ago the class started writing a play about their school year. One of the things they all agreed upon was how much Caleb had been an important part of their year and how much their perception and interaction with him had changed since the year started. When Dwight and I, along with Caleb’s grandmothers, went and saw them perform the play they had written we were overwhelmed with joy as we watched the kids talk about Caleb and how much they enjoyed having him in their class. When they concluded by singing the song from Toy Story “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” we all had tears in our eyes as we realized how blessed we were.

Here is a video clip of that portion of the play along with the song. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

He’s My Brother

“Hurry up! We want to get good seats!”  I said as I led Emma, Ethan and Caleb into the Jr. High Building.  We were coming to watch our oldest son, Drew, play percussion in the Jr. High Band Concert.  We entered the auditorium and filed down the middle row to the first group of open seats we could find. 

I got all the kids settled in and Caleb was happily watching “Bee Movie” on his iPod while Emma and Ethan scanned the crowd looking for kids they knew from school.  “Hey, there’s Grandpa!” Emma said as my Dad walked into the auditorium and came over to join us. 

As the lights dimmed and they introduced the orchestra Caleb threw his iPod into my lap and sat forward intrigued with what was going on up on the stage. He watched and listened as the music began and then started bouncing in his seat and squealing with excitement (making what we like to call his “happy noises”). 

“Wow ! That is unusual for Caleb” I thought.  Every other time we had attended one of Drew’s band performances Caleb would just sit quietly and watch movies on his iPod not even paying attention to what was going on up on stage. Occasionally he would cover his ears if it got too loud or when the audience clapped, but other than that he seemed to be off in his own little world and totally engrossed in the movie he was watching.

Tonight was different and I’m not sure why. Caleb definitely was fascinated by the music of both the orchestra and the band and he could hardly contain his excitement as he bounced on his seat throughout the entire performance.  When each song ended he would clap along with the rest of the audience and he would crane his neck to look for his brother up on the stage. As soon as he saw Drew he would smile and clap even harder.  

What a wonderful evening!  Drew did an awesome job playing the three selections the band played and Caleb surprised us all by helping us congratulate Drew on a job well done.   I even heard Caleb softly say, “Dew” as he clapped at the end of the performance.  This simple word and the smile on his face were Caleb’s way of saying, “Yep, that’s my brother up there and I am so proud of him!”