I first heard the term “woodshed” with regard to music when I was about 11. For those who don’t know, woodshedding a piece of music means to practice it and learn it. Here in Oberlin, the Woodshed is the name of a local music studio where Kevin Jones and Aidan Plank teach music lessons, host jam sessions, and provide access to musical education and performances to the community. Many kids in the area come to the Woodshed to study guitar, banjo, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards among other instruments (I once saw a friend of mine taking a dulcimer lesson!). Even adults in Oberlin come to the Woodshed to take lessons and (perhaps) realize long held dreams of playing like a pop star. Clearly, the Woodshed is a community staple and asset, giving so much to so many.
Why, you may ask, am I providing the Woodshed with such glowing praise and free publicity? It’s simple, really. My son takes lessons from Kevin Jones, and today was my little man’s first recital. While most folks wouldn’t consider this a reason to write a blog entry, I do.
My son Iain is autistic, as I have shared in previous blog entries. Iain was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) at age 5, after having been evaluated as a child with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified) at age 3. He has been evaluated and re-evaluated many times over the years. We have told many things about what Iain’s limitations are and what he would never do. We have been encouraged to “mourn” the child we thought we had. We were told our son would never be what folks consider “normal”. Essentially, we were encouraged to give up on Iain and treat him like an invalid.
I wasn’t buying it. These psychologists and neurologists may know about autism, but they did not know my son. I knew him from the beginning of his life, and I had seen him grow and develop like any neuro-typical child until he was two and a half. Right around that time, Iain’s development slowed down and he began to have trouble focusing and making eye contact. While he never regressed, it was apparent that something was going on that needed medical attention. John and I endured years of not knowing exactly what what was happening with our son, fearing that he would be lost to us forever and locked in his own world. We spent hours every week dealing with the NYC Board of Education and its bureaucratic bullshit — just to get our son into kindergarten. In New York, Iain would have been doomed to an education that was spent segregated from neuro-typical students. He would have been put together with other students (almost exclusively all male) with the same communication impairments as him. There would have been no contact with kids who not just like him, so there would be no true glimpse into the “real world” for him.
While I was afraid of how our move to Ohio would effect him, Iain was able to go to “regular” school for the first time. He has been mainstreamed since entering kindergarten. The school district provides him with a paraprofessional to help him negotiate his way through the school day, and with small group instruction in reading and math. In this atmosphere, included with all the other kids, Iain has thrived and grown. He is able to do what all the other kids do. Yes, he is different. Iain sees the world in his own unique way, but he is funny, loving, and sweet. He has friends. He is a cub scout. He swims and rides horses, and he loves art.
About 15 months ago, Iain asked for drum lessons. I was worried about his ability to focus and commit to music as a discipline. Focus is a big challenge for him, and I was torn between hoping music lessons would help and worrying that he wouldn’t be able to do them. A close friend of mine studies with Kevin, as does his son. I met Kevin and spoke with him about Iain’s special needs. Kevin seemed up to the challenge and we started the lessons in June of 2011.
As always, I worried about Iain and how he was doing. Something inside me has always worried that folks would treat him like he was slow or stupid. I have always worried about whether or not he was in the realm of “normal” like the other kids. Perhaps this is not healthy for me or for Iain, but I truly believe that he will live up or down to whatever is expected of him. If he fails, fine. I’ll help him learn to accept failure. But he’ll never know what he’s capable of if folks pity the handicapped kid rather than pushing the kid who’s different. So I push him. Hard. He’s never failed to amaze me with his intelligence and talent.
Kevin pushes Iain too, and he pushes me. Kevin pushes me to let Iain go and do things for himself. He has very kindly and gently asked me to back off of my vigilence and let him be Iain’s teacher. As a teacher myself, I know he’s right. As a tiger mom, I needed to hear him tell me it was okay to let my baby go. So I watch Kevin work with my son, and I watch the magic happen. Kevin is so patient, but firm at the same time. He holds Iain to a high standard while still acknowledging his quirks. He once took away Iain’s favorite part of the lesson — playing the drums — because Iain had been so unfocused and uncooperative during the keyboard portion of the lesson. I didn’t mind at all. It showed me the respect Kevin had for my son. He knew Iain could do better and he chose to discipline him rather than coddle him. He made Iain deal with the consequences of his actions like any good teacher would do. While this might have angered another parent, it couldn’t have made me happier. Kevin saw my son, not his handicaps or differences. He saw what I saw and he challenged my boy. The next week, Iain snapped to it. Mission accomplished.
Today, Iain got up on stage at the Woodshed and played his first recital. He paid attention, focused, and performed admirably at the drumset. As I stood there taking a video, my heart swelled with pride. There was my boy doing something I’d been told he wouldn’t do. He was, once again, defying the odds and proving wrong every naysayer who’d written him off. I fought back tears as I watched my baby have yet another victory over the disorder he has that doesn’t have him. He was right there in the moment with Kevin — smiling, laughing, and having a great time. He was not only in the world with the rest of us, he was giving us all something that made our world a little brighter. He was sharing his talent and hard work with us.
At the end, he clearly enjoyed the applause. He even took a bow — the cutest one I’d ever seen. He left the stage beaming. John, Imani, and I were all proud of him, but (more importantly) he was proud of himself. Perhaps no one else in the room knew how huge this was for Iain, but John and I knew. We truly knew how special this was.
I cannot thank Kevin enough for his patience and kindness toward my son. The Woodshed is a blessing in the lives of so many folks because of what Kevin gives to all of his students. We are grateful for the special blessing it is in our Iain’s life. We are happy to take it to the Woodshed, week after week, and to get better and better every day.