Many musicians stamp their feet to the beat, but Shelby Township drummer Grant Harrison does not. As his peers from Utica’s high school bands casually tap their toes, Harrison nods like a calm heavy metal drummer.
Grant, 16, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a term used to describe a neurodevelopmental disorder on the autism spectrum. The term Asperger’s refers to a person with high level autism, but since 2013 the term has fallen out of favor in the medical community. People with this disease are no longer distinguished from others on the autism spectrum. The characteristics of autism vary from person to person, but generally include repetitive behaviors and social challenges.
Grant, entering his final year of high school in Utica, is doing well in school. He maintains a good grade point average and is part of the school’s wind, jazz, marching and orchestral ensemble. He also plays drums in an after-school social group called The Basement Group, which includes several friends and his younger brother, Bryce.
Grant successfully manages his symptoms – which include anxiety and resulting panic attacks, restlessness, social discomfort, hearing and speech problems, and problems with textures – by redirecting his focus. and other techniques. It’s his hearing loss that makes him bang his head while he plays, says his mother, Tracy.
“Language is difficult for him, and that’s because he hears the way we hear underwater,” she says. “That’s why the drums are perfect because he can feel the beat.”
In addition to positive cognitive support, playing with groups helped Grant manage his anxiety, develop socially, and strengthen his self-esteem.
Grant started playing drums in second grade after Tracy, who played the clarinet, noticed that her son was interested in music. Knowing that other types of instruments may not work for Grant, Tracy encouraged him to try the drums. She hired drum instructor Carol Boufford to work with her son privately, and the two formed a connection that will continue for years to come.
After learning from Bouffard for a short time, Grant expressed interest in performing in the fourth-grade talent show. His performance was so well received by his classmates that he became the “kid who plays the drums”. It was a significant boost to Grant’s self-esteem.
In addition to music, Grant is a longtime member of the BSA Scouts, having recently achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, the Boy Scout’s highest achievement. A requirement of Eagle Scout is the completion of a significant community service project. Grant, who blogged online about his life with autism, published a 26-page digital magazine about his time with the group, “Music Through the Eyes and Ears of Autism.” The purpose of the magazine, which is available online at Grant’s website, FetchTheSwell.com, is to raise awareness about living with autism.
“It’s hard to figure out what it is (to have autism) because it’s more of a mental type of thing than a physical one,” Grant says. “I want to make a change in the community to explain what it is and promote the change.
Grant hopes to continue publishing the digital magazine quarterly. He named the site after a surfer dog’s persistence in riding a wave, which is a metaphor for Grant’s determination to successfully overcome all societal barriers. Grant, who has blogged for several years, has posted numerous articles and photos on his website. Its goal is to show people the human behind the diagnosis.
“You see so much medical stuff, but this is about a kid with good grades and doing well,” says Tracy. “I, as a parent, would have loved to see something like this when Grant was young. “
Find Grant’s work at FetchTheSwell.com. Or, to learn more about autism, visit autismspeaks.org.