FREDERICK, Md. — With blazing red hair, sticks firmly in hand, and a focused look on his face, Cade Suddith took the stage at the Great Pumpkin Patch festival at Old National Pike Park in early October.
Cade, 10, and his band, Electric Rainbow, were the first group scheduled to perform at the festival that morning. Over a half-hour period, the band played songs by bands as varied as Kiss and Paramore. Cade maintained his focus throughout, drumming so fast his sticks could snap, and occasionally flipping them in the air to impress the audience.
After their set, Cade raced down to his mother, Cat Maselka, who was standing in the audience.
“Mom, can we do the rock climbing?” he asked, pointing to a makeshift rock wall set up a few yards behind them, his attention completely turned from drumming to the next thing.
This is typical of Cade, who was diagnosed with autism shortly after turning one, Maselka said. Like many kids with autism, his attention frequently bobs from one thing to another. But all of that changes when he sits down to drum.
“Over the last three years, it’s really just become his thing. It’s what he does. (For) some kids it’s soccer, some kids it’s painting and for Cade, it’s playing the drums,” said Jim Learer, owner of Jim’s House of Music in New Market, where Cade takes drum lessons.
In a world constantly pulling at his attention, drumming and music in general have always seemed to keep him focused.
After Cade was diagnosed, Maselka started making phone calls and doing research on how to get her son the resources he needed to succeed.
Autism is a developmental disorder that is often characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behavior, speech and nonverbal communication.
“As a parent, you want the best for your kid whether they’re neurotypical or on the spectrum,” Maselka said.
That meant making sure Cade went to various therapies to help him with his speech and his motor skills.
One day, while researching grants to help with funding these various therapies, Maselka stumbled upon the Monocacy Foundation, which was offering a grant for music therapy sessions at Noteable Progressions in Spring Ridge.
Maselka, who didn’t know much about music therapy, decided to give it a try. After the first sessions, she said she knew it was the perfect fit for Cade.
“Whatever he already had, (music therapy) just opened him up,” Maselka said. “The first day they took us back, and the woman started playing the guitar. ... I saw his entire posturing change.”
According to Darcy O’Daniel, executive and clinical director of Noteable Progressions, music therapy has been an established profession since the 1950s, when it was used to help veterans returning from WWII who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
O’Daniel said music therapy is not prescriptive, but adaptable depending on the needs of the client. Music is used as a tool to help clients work on a functional goal or skill, and a session can incorporate singing songs or using an instrument to create melodies.
With Cade, music was used to help him work on creative thinking, executive functioning and appropriate turn-taking.
“We worked on self-expression through making music ... so planning out how to make a song and then continuing to keep working on that song over multiple sessions,” said Joe Jones, who has served as Cade’s therapist for his last six months at Noteable Progressions.
Creating music in these sessions not only helped Cade with basic skills such as communication but also with functioning outside the therapy room in other situations, such as his drum lessons, which he began soon after starting music therapy.