Healing power of music: Nonprofit brings instruments into lives of disabled young people


Tyler Grieb, who is autistic, plays an electronic drum set given to him by Blue Star Connection at his home in Bloomington, Ind., Sept. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/The Herald-Times, Jeremy Hogan)

Scott Grieb helps his son Tyler Grieb, who is autistic, play a drum set he was given though Blue Star Connection at their home in Bloomington, Ind., Sept. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/The Herald-Times, Jeremy Hogan)

Because 8-year-old Tyler Grieb is on the autism spectrum, he has social challenges and severe language delays. But the Project School student is high-functioning in many ways and absolutely adores music.

When he walks down hallways in his Bloomington home, he croons his favorite songs and raps his fingers against the walls in perfect rhythm.

“He’s a walking drumstick,” his mother, Emily Nehus, told The Herald-Times. “Music is in his system.”

So when Nehus got a phone call from Tyler’s pediatrician, Dick Malone, saying he knew of two high school girls who could give Tyler the musical instrument of his dreams, she was all ears.

Malone said the girls, Sadie and Sam Johnson, were involved with Blue Star Connection, a nonprofit organization that gives musical instruments to children and young adults with life-threatening illnesses, disabilities or other special challenges. Founded in 2005 and based in Winter Park, Colo., the organization has provided several hundred youngsters and more than 20 children’s hospitals with musical instruments.

When the Johnson girls, both students at Bloomington High School North, asked Malone if he knew of any patients who might benefit from having a free musical instrument, Malone immediately thought of Tyler. A few days later, Sadie and Sam gave Tyler an electric drum set with headphones and an amplifier — a system that would allow Tyler to hear the drums through his headphones, but offering silence to those around him.

“Tyler already had a little acoustic drum set, but it was driving us crazy because it was so loud,” Nehus said.

Since the drum set was set up in the living room of Tyler’s home two weeks ago, the youngster has been playing it several hours a day. “We don’t set any limits; he can play it any time he wants,” Nehus said. “He’ll come home from school and play it for two hours straight.”

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