Ben stands up from his chair cautiously, accepting my outstretched hand for help as I sing “it’s time to go to the xylophone”. I point across the room to the xylophone and slowly we walk over together. I help guide him to the chair that waits for him and very slowly, with both of his hands reaching out behind him to find the chair, he sits. Ben is 16 years old and is diagnosed with autism. He navigates his environment with caution as he has difficulty with balance and depth perception.
Once Ben is seated in front of the giant Orff xylophone I offer him a mallet which he takes eagerly, and begins to play before I am even seated. He has an incredible sense for pacing and our time together is largely spent in a musical “conversation”. He plays a sequence of three or four notes and pauses, looking at me to respond. I respond by adding my own little sequence and Ben laughs and rocks forward, playing a few notes to continue our conversation.
This goes for nearly thirty minutes. In this time Ben experiments with different notes and sequences and then pauses for me to play before responding again. While playing the xylophone Ben moves quickly and assertively, rocking back and forth as he strikes the notes with his mallet. He no longer appears tentative and connects solidly with each note. During these thirty minutes Ben carries on an animated and complex musical conversation with me. He is non-verbal and this time spent on the xylophone gives us a social connection using a common form of expression and communication.
When we are finished Ben hands me the mallet. I assist him in standing and he stretches and yawns. We have just enough time for a little guitar before our hour is finished.