When Isaac Mintz was 8 years old, he had just endured a terrible year.
His parents, Chuck and Pat, had moved the family back to Cleveland from out of state to enroll Isaac in a special education program at a public school.
“The reason we picked that school system was specifically because there were a lot of people involved. It was not just a classroom of kids in special ed,” Chuck remembered. “But then, the special-education director left during the summer between the time we decided to move and when Isaac started school. We got whatever the teacher gave us.”
What they got wasn’t very encouraging.
“‘Isaac can’t learn anything until his behavior gets under control’ was the message, repeated over and over again,” Chuck said.
Then they got some advice that would change their course.
“Someone suggested visiting the Settlement,” Chuck said. “We walked into the old building and met Louise [Steele Markland], who spent about 14 milliseconds with us. Then she grabbed Isaac by the hand, led him into a music therapy studio, and closed the door. There wasn’t an observation room, but there was a window in the door. She grabbed our child, whom —we’d been told for a year— ‘couldn’t learn anything.’” Chuck remembered.
“And then, Louise sits him down at the piano and they start playing the piano together.”
Thirty-five years later, it’s obvious that this moment was a turning point for the family.
“We’d been told day in and day out how he was unteachable and this complete stranger sits him down and puts him to work,” Chuck said. “We were standing outside that window, looking in. It was an emotional time.”
“The session with Louise was like… moving into a separate universe,” Chuck said.
That introduction began Isaac’s music therapy experience at The Music Settlement. He has been involved in TMS music therapy for thirty-five years. His parents pulled him out of the public school and enrolled him in Beech Brook for two years, where music therapy services were being provided by The Music Settlement.
“Beech Brook had the actual academic program plus two hours afterward, which is when the music therapy and art therapy were happening. Within three weeks, he was calm and engaged: no behavior issues. We knew that we were in the right place,” Pat said.
“So, we moved into this different world with Louise. It was a big time. We had lots of therapists. The longest run was Louise, who saw him for,” Chuck said, trying to remember.
“If we asked Isaac, he could tell you,” Pat said.
“Eight or 10 years,” Chuck recalled. “We’ve never had a bad one. We’ve never had a music therapist who didn’t do what needed to be done.”
“Autistic people like repetition so much. There has never been a time he hasn’t wanted to be at The Music Settlement,” Chuck said.
Isaac attends a private music therapy session each week and the Saturday Jam music therapy group, which meets monthly. He also does a weekly private music therapy session in the summer
“He doesn’t like to miss it at all. He wants to know when he’ll make it up. He’ll ask, ‘What day? What day?’” Pat said.
“He would go every day if he could,” Chuck said.
“I believe that’s true,” Pat agreed.
Isaac & Patty
Isaac’s current music therapist is Patty Console. He started with her a few years ago.
“Patty Console has been phenomenally successful. It’s a whole other kind of success. He’s been doing MT for 30 years when she meets him, and you would think it would be more of the same, that everything that needs to be invented has already been invented. When we started, I said, ‘Patty, the harder you work with him, the easier it will be to work with him.’ And Patty, she’s a risktaker. So, from day one, she has pushed him as hard as she could push him,” Chuck said.
“The results have been phenomenal. It’s more like what aren’t we noticing. His musicality, his intonation, attention to rhythm and details… it is on a completely different level. His presentation, if he’s in front of a group, is completely different. The truth is, watching him now, borders on uninteresting, because he’s so engaged in what he’s doing, that he doesn’t look like a music therapy student,” Chuck said.
“All of his so-called behaviors go away. He’s totally involved in the music itself. She has him playing an incredible array of different music. When he calls me after, he tells me what he’s played and what he’s done with Patty Console, very careful to pronounce her name,” Pat said.
“We have people observe him from time to time and it’s hard to tell what they get out of it, because there’s so little to see. In fact, I don’t think the layman would recognize it as necessarily an MT session. There is notetaking and data taking —Patty’s doing all of the measurements that a MT does in addition to the hands-on stuff— but other than that, you can barely see that he isn’t just taking piano lessons or learning to sing,” Chuck said.
“What’s fun is Isaac has the ability to read upside down, so if someone is writing he knows what they’re writing and he makes sure that every song gets recorded, and then he tells me all about it when we talk on the phone,” Pat said.
“When he’s not busy, he comes up with goofy, annoying, sometimes self-destructive stuff to do. So, when he is engaged, he’s happy. He’s a classic example of how low-expectations yield poor results. He’s a textbook example of that,” Chuck said.
“Probably the biggest impediment in the whole disability arena is low expectations. IT comes up everywhere. This perpetual fear that he can’t handle it. Well, sometimes, he can’t,” Chuck says with a shrug. “Sometimes, I can’t.”
Advice from Those Who Have Been There
Pat and Chuck have advice for people starting down the path of music therapy.
“I think a family starting out needs to have high expectations, but also realize this is a music program. Your kid will get out of it what they get out of it. Let them do that,” Chuck suggested.
“Make space for them to do that,” Pat added.
“Let them enjoy and embrace the different way of communicating, of expressing yourself, and the different set of skills. Worst case, they have a good time for an hour a week, in an active way. So much that gets delivered is passive: watch a play, do this, do that. This is a chance for your kid or adult to DO something,” Chuck said.
“And to interact with the person they’re doing it with,” Pat said, “in a mature and responsible way.”
Photo of Pat, Isaac, and Chuck Mintz by Chuck Mintz