Our Story of High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Music! Unlocked


This curriculum, this teacher, this music – it has been a true blessing to our family, especially my son.


Brayden was 9 years old when we came to Dianne Matter.  Two years prior, he had been diagnosed with high functioning ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and had been struggling with the challenges and differences thereof. 

Since the time when he was small, his verbal skills were present, but slightly delayed. He had a fantastic memory and could recite his favorite books and movies at length, but at the same time, had difficulty translating his own thoughts into words, especially as he entered school and was asked to put those thoughts onto paper. Writing was also physically difficult, as he struggled with planning and carrying out fine motor skills.


Many sounds were overwhelming or unpleasant for him, causing him great anxiety. For years, either my husband or I would sit with Brayden outside of the church sanctuary where he could be away from the intense stimulation of the worship music and crowd, lest he lapse into “meltdown mode”. Although he was constantly humming and singing to himself, at age 9, he had never sang along with a group of people – the sound of all those voices was too overwhelming.


He was very hard on himself, feeling that he was not only different, but had little to offer. One day he revealed to me that he did not think God gave him any gifts or talents. He explained that he knows many children and adults that are good at something, and since he did not have something (he felt) he was good at, he had apparently not been blessed with a talent! 


My heart broke to pieces for him and I assured him of his worth and value as my child and a child of God. But in his view, he believed a person is either gifted or not - he failed to realize that true skill and talent most often requires practice, development, and dedication.


A New Perspective


In September of 2012 we began piano lessons with Dianne Matter and her Music Unlocked curriculum, and were introduced to the idea of helping the right and left sides of the brain connect through music. This was an interesting concept to me, as those with autism spectrum disorder have been proven to have atypical connections between the two hemispheres, but was ultimately not our motivation for introducing Brayden to the piano.


We knew he enjoyed music, and hoped his fine motor skills would improve with regular practice. Little did I know that in the coming year he would be developing much more than his motor and musical skill!  Within the first weeks he was making music. Enjoyable, beautiful music. He was encouraged. He spent more and more time at the piano. He looked forward to each lesson and the new music he would learn.


In December, several students and parents gathered at our home for a children’s Christmas recital followed by singing some Christmas carols with Dianne at the piano. Families and music filled the room to the point of bust and I was concerned a meltdown may be on the horizon. But no, for the first time, with a room filled to capacity, Brayden sang Christmas carols, smiling the whole time! I cried for joy. 


Now, a year later, his fingers fly over the keys so quickly that I am constantly telling him to slow down. “Canon is not supposed to sound frantic!” I tell him. He just smiles and keeps playing. He writes journal entries and school papers, in cursive. Just in the last few months he has been coming into the sanctuary with us (wearing earplugs) but singing and worshiping with the family. His perspective of himself and his differences has changed. He knows he is good at something all his own. He knows he will continue to improve his new skill. He can make music; beautiful music, and create his own – a gift he can enjoy for the rest of his life.


Krista Arft

Art and Piano Instructor

Savannah, TX


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