Music Therapy, Autism & The English Beat {An Awesome Guest Post}

     As a father to a son with Autism, Microcephaly and Mixed expressive receptive disorder I have seen music perform miracles in my son’s life. In our house music is consumed as much as apple juice, bananas and crayons. As a music lover there is no bigger thrill for me than to expose my children to music. One of the bands I have introduced them to was one of my University days favorites – “The English Beat”. "The Beat" and "General Public" were very popular in Southern California where I grew up.
Between being in both radio and records, I have been fortunate to meet some incredible artists. One of my favorites from both a musical and personal standpoint is Dave Wakeling. At this point, if your saying to yourself “Who on earth is the English Beat??” Please enjoy the clip below as a refresher. If you grew up in the 80’s (that’s when MTV played music),this should ring a bell.

One of the things I have admired most about Dave Wakeling is the way he interacts with the fans and music lovers across the globe. His respect, kindness and unhurried quality time with them is unprecedented. His personality has never changed over the last 20+ years of crossing paths with him.

Thursday night Pamela and I headed to Bricktown in downtown Oklahoma City for an English Beat show under the stars downtown as a part of the "ACM@UCO Rocks Bricktown" music festival(Can you believe we actually got a baby sitter???). What was supposed to be a night of music and dancing ended up being quality time spent under a small canopy in a deserted bricktown parking lot. As the rain continued and the lightning lit up the OKC skyline “the beat” fans waited.

It caught my attention that the techs working the stage started to scramble as two awnings covering the outside stage began to sag with pooling water. The scramble was on to get instruments off the stage and into a uhaul truck before the English Beat's tools of the trade floated away including Dave's tear dropped shaped guitar.
We knew the night was done and at this point all we could do is sit out the rain, head back to the car and call it a night.
As we waited I noticed someone gingerly heading to our tent and realized it was Dave Wakeling. I was surprised… but I wasn't. It's something Dave would do without thinking twice. He squeezed in under the tent and chatted for at least a half hour with everyone. He shared stories from English Beat & General Public and even spilled the beans about the possibility of a General Public reunion with Ranking Roger and a tour with Mick Jones from the Clash and Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals.

He was also insistent that they get to play and was commenting about how odd it was for them to not have a gig the following day. They had a 1 day break before heading to St. Louis so the school that sponsored and promoted the event made arrangements for the beat to perform at the school's performance lab. Dave posed for a pic and started to make his way back to the bus. Before he did, I asked if it might be OK that I bring my son Grayson to the sound check the following day. I explained that he is autistic and that he reacts well to music but does not manage crowds well. Dave said "sure - check with me on facebook later".

     The arrangements were made the next day and we arrived at the venue and came to the bus where Dave greeted us and we headed inside for sound check. Grayson did not transition well. We're not sure if it was the people, colors in the telling. I think his frustration of not being able to communicate is equal to ours not being able to help him during these transitions. Dave saw what was happening and went to the stage and got his red "ace" guitar. He took the guitar and laid it flat on an equipment platform on its back and showed Grayson how to strum. He reached out to my son to hand him the pick and Grayson refused. Dave took the pick and made sure Grayson had visual contact with it. He laid it on the body of the guitar and walked away.

     The entire time Dave was soft spoken. He did not move too quickly and did a really good job of maintaining eye contact - like he had experience doing this. In a way he did. I will fill you in on that later.Grayson quickly approached the guitar. I think I was a little more worried about that then Dave was. I have seen my son make things fly through the air with little or no effort and all I could see was Dave's Fender involved at some horrible accident at the hands of my son. Instead Grayson quickly ran to the guitar, got the pick, ran AWAY from the guitar, threw the pick at the guitar and screamed.

Not what I expected.
Dave - very calmly walked over to the guitar and got the pick and said "ok then, let's try this out". As best he could he laid the guitar on a padded folding chair, secured it as best as he could and showed Grayson the pick again and walked away. We got my daughter Aubrey to strum the guitar a few times to see if Grayson would warm up to the idea.

     Grayson would have nothing to do with it and started stemming so Pamela decided to take him outside for a few minutes and Dave and I spoke about autism.

He told me about his mother being a nurse in the 60's. If I remember his story correctly he said his mom became frustrated with nursing because her job had changed from being a nurse who had contact with patients to a "pill pusher". When a chance came to work with patients who really needed her help she exited her current position and worked with special needs patients. "Autism really didn’t have a name then, but my mom was in the middle of it every day". He had a lot of admiration for his Mother. He watched her work with people facing a life with lots of challenges - patiently. About a year ago Dave released an acoustic version of a song he wrote called "The Love You Give" to Acoustic For Autism on iTunes. It was his first studio recording since 1994.The proceeds are used for autism awareness.

     Since the stage was still being set for The English Beat concert later that night Dave said he would text me when they were ready to go and we would see how Grayson would do with a full band. As we exited the back of the UCO Performance Lab in Bricktown we walked through a small room with a table loaded up with food. Dave stopped my daughter Aubrey and asked her if she liked strawberries. She shook her head no (this is not true - she will put the hurt on a pint of strawberries) so then Dave said "Aubrey - would you like some grapes?" She shook her head "yes" and Dave shared some grapes with her. This is Dave Wakeling.
     We walked around Bricktown for a while until it was time to head back to the venue for sound check. Grayson made it up the ramp on the outside of the building and walked in a couple of times but would not stay in too long. After sound check was completed Dave came to Aubrey and I and said he saw Grayson outside waking back and forth in front of the window while he was on stage.
     Those of you who have autistic children have seen these doors open and close so many times. Music, art, whatever it is. Who knows why they are so focused one minute and disconnected the next. When we got Grayson as a foster child at 18 months we knew something was not right, but did not have the diagnosis. As foster parents we were on a mission to help this little guy find himself. When we got the call that we was not going to be able to go back home we filed for adoption. Since then there have been a ton of challenges and as many victories.

One of the things I have been guilty of is thinking that sometimes he does not take away anything from an experience because of a meltdown. As I was going through pictures my wife posted on Facebook from the show my son was looking over my shoulder. “miihteer daye, miihteer daye, tar, yeah…..yeah…” (Translated from graysonspeak) “mister dave, mister dave, guitar, yeah, yeah”.
The connection was made. And even through the stemming, screaming, and refusal to get close to Dave for a picture – an impression was made with him.

I asked my daughter what she thought of “Mister Dave”. Her reply: “He is a very nice man, and he shared his grapes with me”.

Nice Indeed. Thanks Dave!


Chris Torrick is a husband to Pamela, a Dad to Grayson & Aubrey Grace,
a freelance voice over artist, indie record promoter, and currently
owns 2 internet based radio stations: www.TheMighty690.COM and

He can be reached at

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