Luke and I are having a conversation. There are no words but I know – and I think he knows –that we are communicating. A large African drum stands between us. Luke has discovered that when you hit it, it makes a noise; and that when he hits it, I respond. He hits it twice and then I hit it twice; we are, as I said, having a conversation.
Luke is nine and has autism. He’s been coming to music therapy for 2 years. We didn’t always talk like this. Luke’s autism makes it hard for him to connect and interact with others. He seemed comfortable in his own world but reluctant to let others in. He seemed to struggle to know where his world ended and the world of others began. So he had no real sense of himself.
He’d use my hand to play the guitar, holding it and moving it across the strings. Maybe Luke didn’t know he could play himself. One day, almost by accident, he hit a xylophone with a beater, and I responded. A few sessions later he did it again. Slowly he seemed to be making the connection between his actions and the music that sounded. As he began to realise his own ability to make music, he also seemed to become more aware that my music was separate; that I could respond to whatever he was telling me.
Recently Luke discovered the drum. Now he seems to know that if he plays and leaves a space, I respond. His face lights up. Music has allowed Luke to experience the world of interaction and to explore communication and learn about himself in relation to others. Music allows Luke a space in his life, perhaps the only space, where he can be himself.