The Important Lesson My Son’s Cousin Taught Him Through Music

My dearest Callie,

I remember how excited you were, 23 years ago, to find out at the age of 2 that you had a cousin.  You don’t remember, you were too young at the time, but I assure you, you were thrilled.

You were less thrilled when you tried to get him to play dolls with you and he declined because even at a year old he was obstinate. But you still loved him and decided if he wanted to play trucks, you would play trucks with him. I think you lived a lot of your life doing what Andy wanted.

Years passed and you were still probably too young to remember Andy before the diagnosis. You don’t remember the sleepless nights or the countless times your uncle and I cried on your father’s shoulders because Andy had Aspergers and we didn’t know what this would mean for him.


More years passed and you only got to see us periodically because new jobs meant we moved away and more babies in both our families meant traveling was harder.

I know you were old enough to remember staying with us when you were in middle school and Grammy was so sick. You and your daddy had come to say goodbye, and you were both glad to visit us as well.

I knew it wasn’t what you expected, Andy being so different that you had more in common with our 9-year-old daughters than with the cousin who was almost your same age. I braced myself for the explanations and excuses for Andy’s behavior. But I never had to use them. You just loved him and worked extra hard to find common ground. That common ground was music.

Andy had been trying to play the cello for years because he liked the sound, it soothed him. But he didn’t understand “gentle” or “lightly” so when he played he sawed the bow over the strings like he was trying to skin a deer, not trying to play the cello. At first, you tried what everyone does, saying, “play gentle, Andy, like you hold a baby.” But he didn’t understand.

Then I heard you both play again, you, decent for a 12-year-old, Andy, like nails on a chalkboard. I heard the sigh and ran in to prevent the meltdown. But before I got there, I heard my youngest daughter tell you he didn’t know what “gently” meant. I was just reaching the door when I heard you say “Oh” and I thought “oh no, here it comes.”

But then you said what has possibly become the most meaningful sentence anyone has ever said to him: “You’re holding the bow too close to the strings.”

Andy has played the cello gently ever since.

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Conversation With My 9-Year-Old Daughter That Broke My Heart

“Momma, what did I do wrong?” “What do you mean?” “What did I do wrong to make people not like me?” “You didn’t do anything wrong. You are a kind, lovable child. The right people see that. It’s the wrong ones that do not.” This sadly was a conversation I had with my 9-year-old daughter, [...]

To the Sister Who Gave Students With Special Needs a Chance When It Seemed No One Else Would

There was a time in our community when orphanages and institutions housed children considered “unteachable.” Left to their own devices, without the tools to learn or encouragement to explore, without love to sustain them, these children did not thrive. However this one time, in our community, a kind and ambitious woman who was a Sister [...]

When a Hockey Game Turned Into Something Much More

I’m sure we can all recall a bad day in our lives, one we didn’t expect would happen. Those negative moments seem to remain with us. But when was the last time you had a really good day that you didn’t expect would turn out that way? Why are those days difficult to remember? Is it [...]

For a Mom or Dad Going Through One of Down Syndrome’s Hard Days…

Some days are really dark being a momma to a child with Down syndrome, congenital cataracts, congenital heart defects and a slew of other special needs. Some days you’re beyond frustrated because hours upon hours are spent in therapies and appointments. Some days you’re so desperate to just hear the word “momma” instead of teaching [...]