Ben has just started music therapy. After an initial assessment with a charity over two years ago, we finally made it to the top of the waiting list. As the days get longer, we are seeing more and more of Croydon as we make our way to the purpose-built Nordoff Robbins centre. for weekly music sessions
We were a bit nervous. We know Ben likes music – one of the comments from his school report last year was that he loved choir, something we were really pleased about, not least because by definition choirs involve a lot of noise. Ben still has a reflex that causes him to physically startle at loud noises. He has found this upsetting in the past but is learning to manage the shock.
And we watch him enjoying music at home – one of the most reliable ways to make him laugh is for his uncle to play the piano while telling jokes, in the style of Flanders and Swann.
But all of that didn’t necessarily mean music therapy would go well, especially after a full day at school and then an hour in the car.
At our first session we were met by our friendly music therapist, who I will call C. She suggested that she take Ben off into the music room while I wait in the entrance room. What?! Let Ben be taken off into another room without me? With someone he (and I) has only just met? Are you nuts?! That has literally never happened before.
But of course I was too embarrassed to say all that – no-one wants to be a mollycoddling, helicopter parent unless absolutely necessary. Ben was totally relaxed. C seemed confident. So I said meekly, ‘Great, yes, I’ll just be here’, trying to portray a sense of calm and normality.
Then I sat in the waiting room, sending my husband texts saying things like ‘Ben’s in music therapy on his own! Nervous!’, praying that Ben didn’t puke on C. I was straining to hear what I could from the music room but I couldn’t hear any complaining, just a bit of distant guitar, then a drum, then some singing.
After half an hour he reappeared looking pleased with himself and C said it had gone really well. I was even more chuffed than Ben.
Our second visit followed the same pattern, only this time at the end of the session I heard Ben crying from the other room and when he came through the door he was crying sad, hot tears. C said he had got upset when she sang a goodbye song. As we chatted he calmed down a bit, but each time we talked about leaving or saying goodbye the tears started again. And on the way home he sobbed on and off for twenty minutes, which is really unusual for him. He gets upset and he cries sometimes, but almost never for that long.
This week we went for our third session and the same thing happened at the end, but with less dramatic sobs and a quicker recovery. C is taking it all in her stride, but I started to worry that Ben just doesn’t like music. It seems unlikely since he’s happy when we arrive and enjoys music at school, but maybe…
I was talking to another music therapist while waiting at the centre, and he said it was lovely that C and Ben were getting on so well. We had a conversation about how much Ben ‘talks’ i.e. not at all, but he makes all sorts of noises that we can interpret as happy, sad, annoyed or bored. He said it was lovely to hear Ben singing with C, and that Ben has a ‘beautiful melodic voice’, which struck me as an incredibly accurate and particularly lovely thing to say about a child who can’t use his voice easily.
I’m hoping Ben’s approach to music might be like his acclimatisation to the school bus; he started cheerful, then found it all too much, then settled into happy contentment.
I’m pretty sure he really likes C and her music, and is just really upset that every week it finishes after only half an hour. In the absence of Ben being able to tell me, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Maybe he is finding his voice.