Dylan Whitley quickly progressed from pounding on pots and pans to perfectly playing tunes on a toy piano.
By the age of three, the autistic and blind boy could play a piece of music within minutes of hearing it for the first time.
Over time, a real keyboard replaced the play one. An obsession for radio jingles developed. And, as his love of music remained a constant, Dylan honed his talents and learned key life skills in weekly music therapy sessions.
The teenager remembers the feeling during his first lesson with Calgary-based JB Music Therapy, in his home when he was a preschooler. “You should have seen my energy just go way up,” he said. “Not the energy you get when you first eat and have a big sugar rush, but 10 times.”
That feeling hasn’t faded over the years for the boy born with a rare disorder called septo-optic dysplasia.
As a young child, excess noise — such as the sound of applause on television — would have Dylan banging his head on the floor and sobbing. His mom credits years of music and behaviour therapy with shaping Dylan into who he is today. “He’s an interesting guy,” his mom, Judy Whitley, said. “He’s funny. He’s quirky. He loves the ladies.”
In addition to the ladies, Dylan, 16, loves Timbits (the bite-sized morsels of quintessentially Canadian doughnuts) and music. “When I’m composing stuff . . . it’s like all sense of time just vanishes,” said Dylan. He especially enjoys creating tunes with his keyboard and a computer program, and can recite radio jingles from across the country with ease.
Judy often determines her son’s mood by what type of music she hears coming from the digital piano in his bedroom. One day it might be Mozart, the next hip-hop. “Music is where Dylan shines. It’s where he is the best of the best,” said Judy. “He has learned through JB Music about expressing his feelings through music.”
There are 650 certified music therapists across Canada who use music to enhance the physical, emotional and spiritual health of clients of all ages — from kids like Dylan who have special needs, to seniors with dementia, adults with mental illness or babies and their parents.
Over the past 25 years, JB Music Therapy in Calgary has grown to an operation that serves 1,600 clients a week at schools, hospital bedsides, long-term-care facilities and private homes. The organization’s youngest client is two months old and the eldest is 106.
“Music, as a therapy, works because it connects on a physiological level and also creates emotional triggers and cognitive triggers for us,” said Shannon Robinson, the company’s vice-president. “Music that we like can increase the release of dopamine and serotonin, which are happy, good-feeling hormones, and then that just makes us feel better. It motivates us. It creates more structure, more satisfaction in our lives.”
Providing therapy and comfort to young patients through music in CTV News Calgary