Monday, May 11, 2015

Bass Clef Bliss: Autism and Music

Therese Davis watched as her toddler seemed to withdraw from the world, the few words he spoke disappeared, he began repetitive rocking motions, erupted in tantrums seemly out of proportion to stimulus, and seemed to lose connection with her and the world. However, it took until Terrence was four years old for the diagnosis to be revealed  - autism.

Bass Clef Bliss, the powerful new feature documentary, we see Therese come to terms with this heart-wrenching diagnosis - like so many other parents today - and then find the courage to persevere, find a way to open up the world to her struggling child, Terrence Patridge. They ultimately find that key in music.

I had a chance to interview Therese to learn more about her story.

When did you first feel something was "off" with your son?
Between Terrence's second and third birthday, several changes happened.  He lost all of the speech he had acquired.  He also began staring at ceiling fans; turning light switches on and off repeatedly; rocking back and forth; and lining up his toys instead of playing with them.  Terrence also became extremely sensitive to sounds and other stimuli in the environment, which led to frequent tantrums.  His sleep pattern changed dramatically.  He would stay awake for up to 21 hours per day.

What led to connecting Terrence with music?
Terrence always loved music. After his speech regressed, the doctors and therapists did not know if his speech would return.  I decided music therapy might benefit him because I thought he would need a way to communicate with others in a positive manner.  I connected with Barbara Dunn, who had a private music therapy practice.  She was patient, knowledgeable, and passionate about music and helping others.

Did you notice changes immediately?
No, the changes happened gradually and steadily over time.  During his initial meeting with Barbara, he walked in the office and knocked over every toy and musical instrument in the room.  Barbara told me to allow him to do that for the first few sessions, because he was exploring a new environment and was trying to figure out what was expected of him.   Barbara sang to motivate him.  Terrence was able to improve his ability to focus, follow instructions, and to build rapport with her.  Then Barbara introduced him to the trombone.

What advice do you have for other parents of autistic children?
Love your entire family, including yourself.  Maintain permanent space in your mind, heart, and soul for hope.  Acknowledge accomplishments, no matter how small.  Become a lifelong student of Autism.  Utilize your support system, or build one if you do not have one.  Be gentle and patient with your child and yourself, because the journey isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.

Therese Davis is a mother, writer, and advocate for people with disabilities.  Her childhood love was writing, and she earned her B.A. in Public Relations at the University of Southern California School of Journalism (now The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism).  Therese's son, Terrence Patridge, was diagnosed with Autism at age four.  This life-changing event was the impetus for Therese to begin to learn how to help Terrence, who had a proclivity for music.  She subsequently began helping other people with disabilities.  Rekindling her "old flame" of love of writing, Therese earned an M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing with an emphasis in screenwriting at National University. Therese and Terrence, who is a trombone player with perfect pitch (1 in 10,000 people have this), were featured in the documentary, Bass Clef Bliss.  Therese works in the non-profit sector and assists adults with disabilities and their families.   Her aspirations include starting a foundation for people with Autism, continuing to write, and helping Terrence to reach his goals.  Therese resides in the San Diego area.

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