My journey to appreciate neurodiversity

When my son was first diagnosed with Autism, I remember thinking of the condition as my greatest enemy. I devoted every waking moment to combatting and conquering it, shedding tears, saying prayers, and spending my retirement savings on therapies and treatments.

Now that my son is an adult, my view has changed. I now see Autism as just another characteristic that makes Jim uniquely Jim. Like his thick curly hair and his deep baritone voice, Jim owns his Autism and uses it to his advantage. I have learned to appreciate the neurodiversity in our home.

Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

Now let me explain that I am glad that we did invest so much time, energy, and money in the interventions that allowed our son to get along in a neurotypical world. We began with weekly speech therapy that improved his verbal skills and reduced emotional outbursts when he couldn’t make himself understood. We took occupational therapy to help him find satisfying ways to get proprioceptive stimulation, eliminating the hand flapping that made him look strange. We experimented with a controversial allergy treatment that improved his behavior by improving how he felt inside. We invested in another controversial treatment that adjusted his overly sensitive hearing that allowed him to start using his hearing normally and be more in tune with the world around him. We homeschooled throughout all of middle school, breaking the cycle of fight or flight that had plagued his previous school years. All of these interventions brought him closer to our world and helped him enjoy being a part of it.

On the other hand, some of the Autistic characteristics have turned out to be assets. Jim has an ability to concentrate and focus that is unmatched. This comes in handy in a musical home and he is able to go about his business despite the loud rehearsal that is happening in the basement. The social detachment that comes with Autism keeps Jim’s life drama free. He never gets in a twist about what someone says or what someone thinks about him. He just lets it go in a way we all wish we could.

And best of all, the repetitive behaviors that doctors label “perseveration” make Jim a fantastic percussionist. Jim picked up his drumming technique in a single lesson back in 2004 and has been drumming with our family band ever since. He is able to make the same repetitive motions for hours during a gig, singing at the same time, without skipping a beat or varying tempo. He is also a strong rhythm guitar player for the same reason.

Come see for yourself. The Dill Pickers will be performing on the main stage at Apple Blossom on May 3. Come sing along, dance in the street and say hi to our neurodiverse family.

Below. the Dill Pickers first gig at the 2004 Balloon Festival at Long Branch Historic House and Farm in Boyce, Virginia.

The Dill Pickers perform on the main stage at the 2018 Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. Left to right, Keith Dill on Stratocaster and vocals, Jim Dill on djembe and vocals, Viqui Dill on bass and vocals.