Raising a child with autism is not everybody's vocation. But parents cannot go about educating themselves at half-speed. You do yourself no good and you certainly do your child no good. As I wrote about several months ago, our decade spent with autism has been fraught with wars; battles with tear-streaked victories and one step backwards with every two steps of progress.
Grammy winner Tom Chapin is facing the challenges of autism on his new CD, THE INCREDIBLE FLEXIBLE YOU. Each song accompanies a lesson from the social thinking curriculum, a program that seeks to engage preschoolers through teens to young adults who are on the autistic spectrum.
Fact-based academics (math and science) are often not a problem for spectrum kids. Pragmatics, which require interpretation and emotional thought, are their downfall. Social thinking, as espoused by Michelle Garcia Winner, is a way to reach those "bright but incredibly clueless" students.
Joined by another Grammy nominee, Phil Galdston ("Save the Best For Last"), Chapin addresses various elements that require social clues, such as "Show Me What You're Feeling," "Listen With All Of You," and "Look, Think, Guess, Know."
We sat at the dinner table listening to the CD for the first play-through. At some point during every song, either myself or my wife would repeat a lyric to Ben our 12-year-old son, and say, "This is what we mean! You can do that!"
One of Ben's issues is scale. It doesn't matter if I ask him, "Do you want ice cream?" or "Can I saw off your legs?" His response will always be quick and loud, "NO THANKS!" Chapin addresses this very thing in "Size of The Problem":
What's the size of the problem?
And when I know
No need to let my troubles grow.
I know where to go and those who know
What to do to solve them.
When I reviewed Alastair Moock's thought-provoking kids cancer CD, SINGING OUR WAY THROUGH, I talked about how the music was specific and personal. Almost too much so for a general audience. I feel almost the same way about THE INCREDIBLE FLEXIBLE YOU. On the surface, it doesn't even come off as a "typical kid's music CD." There is clearly an agenda and if you're not on board with it, well, Chapin has many other CDs to choose from.
I would need to sit down and think about how many times we've seen Tom Chapin in concert, from Symphony Space to Colden Center to the waterfront in Oyster Bay. Even with his social anxiety, Ben has "pushed through" and wanted to say hello to Chapin after every show, which says something about Tom's performing persona. After one performance, when Ben showed a little reluctance, Chapin simply grabbed him and placed Ben on his lap for a photo. Afterwards, Ben did not express any anger or frustration. He smiled.
Ben has enjoyed listening to THE INCREDIBLE FLEXIBLE YOU but that's with us mildly stressing the messages behind the songs. There is a whole methodology available at Social Thinking for parents who want or need to address their child's issues. Chapin is beyond qualified to tackle the mystery of autism and he's enlisted the Chapin Sisters and Nile Rodgers, among others, to help him. As stated, it's a bit left of center if you're not "on the team," so to speak. But if you are, there's a lot of good that can come out of a little bit of time hearing some simple songs.
THE INCREDIBLE FLEXIBLE YOU is available from Tom's website, Amazon, CDBABY, and iTunes.
Here is the video from the album's "In The Group":