John

I first met John in an office at his secondary school. We spoke a bit together about his musical interests amongst other more general interests. John seemed shy and distant and did not make eye contact with me. He sat looking away from me but he did turn slightly when we spoke about music. Vivaldi’s four seasons was playing on the radio in the background in the office and we spoke about this John told me that he liked violins and this is where I felt our first real communication began.

John is on the autistic spectrum and is accessing support for learning at his secondary school. It was thought by the head of the support for learning base and by his other teachers that to perhaps receive music therapy in a period out of his usual timetable (perhaps from a subject he found challenging) would be very beneficial, particularly as John had previously shown a great interest in music.

John entered his first session in a similar way to when I had first met him. He headed straight to the violin and explored playing it and I listened to him. He began to speak about the different things it sounded like, especially the sound of his favourite movie character. Towards the end of the session John played the ocean drum for a long time and I accompanied him on the violin he said to me “gosh you could play this for hours”, and I suspected immediately that the ocean drum was going to provide some sort of space within the one-to-one relationship for John as he seemed quite lost in it.

In our initial sessions John and I would make music for pretend movies and video games together, using all of the instruments (particularly the violin and the keyboard special effects). John would still often go to the toilet during the session, perhaps for some space, and also he would often ask when the period would finish. We see each other for 50minutes a week. Gradually however our relationship shifted.

In our sixth session John and I began to joke and he laughed and smiled with me. In the following sessions he would not ask to go to the toilet and although grabbing his bag and leaving the room sharply when the bell went he would not ask when the period was going to finish. John took a particular interest in the Ukulele and together we learnt songs and then also learnt them on the keyboard. John has been doing this by ear and although he gets frustrated when he cannot play it correctly he is very determined and seems to enjoy doing this.

In one of our sessions together I said something to John and I think he had obviously misunderstood what I said. I continued on with our music and John shouted at me, “But what do you mean?” I asked John not to shout at me but then continued on with our music. A minute later he apologised to me and said he did not mean to shout at me. When I told one of John’s teachers this story later it seemed that this was quite a big thing for John to have done as he often has difficulties with empathy. I think that we had created such a strong relationship between us and trust within our music therapy sessions that John did not want to break this.

Now in our sessions John always comes in very promptly and he has told me before that “Music therapy is my favourite thing on my timetable”. Every week when he comes in John asks if I have any new instruments. During our sessions John makes eye contact with me the majority of the time, laughing and smiling when we are playing music together. I feel, as do his teachers, that he has really come out of himself. Now at the end of our sessions John no longer rushes to the door but he will still sometimes sit for a minute and talk or we finish our music together.

I feel that music therapy has been integral to John in finding a new way to communicate and form a relationship with someone. It has also given him the space to play and be silly at times whereas in his everyday surrounding I get the impression he could feel quite isolated. John has also blossomed musically, playing ukulele at home and receiving singing lessons. I hope that music therapy will continue to be of benefit to John both personally and musically.