Marcus used to sing the hits of the Beatles as a young child without missing a beat or a lyric or a note, his mum tells us. To me this makes total sense. Marcus is largely non-verbal and in our work with Marcus, music is the key. In between games, I often come to sing Marcus’ name, sometimes calmly and slowly, sometimes with funky, exciting clicks. Either way, the simple, repetitive tune cuts through the sensory overload that Marcus experiences and functions as a way of rooting Marcus before the next game. If a game doesn’t have a strong sense of music or rhythm, he can quickly lose interest and become agitated, so we always keep the music going. Our invention of the tunes to go with the faces was purely for Marcus at first. By using music to catch Marcus, he knows what to expect in the consistency of a repeated rhythm and becomes relaxed. The fear of the unknown fades away and he is suddenly free to fully engage with the games. As a result, he is able to say ‘we are awake’ clearly and promptly at the end of the name-singing, even though these words don’t have any ‘music’ per se of their own. With the music as a framework, Marcus has a safe place to play and when the music ends, the words ‘we are awake’ are to him like the final chord.
The anxiety about when things are happening and what is coming next is very common for people with autism. I imagine that the certainty of music in its beats and notes is equivalent in some way to the stops of the District Line which Marcus likes to recite, or what he is doing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. In rehearsal, Kelly has often called the music we make a ‘womb of sound’; like the Hunter heartbeats, we create a constant rhythm and warm harmonies that banish the sensory overload and any worries about what is next. Our participants can know that they are safe for this heartbeat and the next and the next, or for these four names, or for this scale of ‘wupas’. In our workshops, it was called the ‘holly radio’. We would turn the radio on between games or whenever was necessary as a cradle for our participants. It was always there, like a radio station, ready to cut through the noise and the chaos to remind our participants that they are free to play and abandon their worries for the time being.
-Holly Musgrave, Actor-
Sunday the 16th September 2018
This morning, Marcus, our profoundly autistic 12 year old son said ‘YES drama today.’ Given that Kelly’s one week drama course was 6 weeks ago, and Marcus rarely if ever articulates anything, illustrates the profound effect it had on him. It was extraordinary, that week in the summer. I had deliberately stayed away for the first 4 days. Marcus is usually negatively distracted by my presence anywhere.
But Ed my elder son who joined Marcus on the course was evangelical about what the course was doing for Marcus, he kept telling me how he was sitting with the young actors, and actively seeking them out. Curiosity got the better of me, and I came with them on the last day.When I arrived on Friday morning I was ASTONISHED. I have never, ever seen Marcus behave the way he did. He was seeking out, sitting with and CUDDLING his new young adult pals, with whom he had obviously formed a strong bond in this short space of time. He was engaged, and inordinately happy.
I was trying to explain to my husband the significant difference in him, but it had to be seen to be believed. I cannot stress this enough, this engaged, entirely committed child was like no other version of Marcus I have ever seen.
He still beats his little chest to say hello and goodbye!
I have no idea what it was in those sessions which so grasped him, and awoke the part of him which wants to interact. I just know it was the nearest I have seen him to ‘play’, if that makes sense. It is certainly the most communicative I have seen him.
My eldest son Ed was really affected by it. he is, to all intents and purposes, an only child. He loves his brother, but he doesn’t have a fraternal partner in crime. That week, he felt like he did. He loved the young actors, they were the perfect age for a 14 year old boy. He didn’t feel patronised, or like he was in a ‘special needs’ environment. (you would not believe some of the things we have done………) He felt involved, on a level, and had some great laughs. Which is very important to our family!
We all felt joyful, and grateful for the experience.
-Gillian Walsh-Taylor, Marcus’ mother-