Caring for those in Need

Don’t Stop Believin’

I don’t remember the first time I heard my son play “Don’t Stop Believin’” from Journey, but every time I hear the song, I think of him. Broden plays this song every day. He plays the song every day at his ABA clinic, he plays it on the way home in the car, and I’ve heard him play this song before he goes to bed. I remember being in church and while the pastor was saying a prayer, Broden yelled out, “Don’t stop believing!” The pastor responded, “That’s right. Don’t ever stop believing in the Lord.”

BY Shelly Huhtanen | April 2023 | Category: Autism Awareness

Don’t Stop Believin’

Jaime, who works closely with Broden at the clinic said, “When I was on vacation, I turned this song off when it came on the radio. I hear it every single day at the clinic.” I’ve been told that Broden’s peers are now requesting the song because Broden has made the song a “listening favorite.”

Broden has played “Don’t Stop Believin’” so much, that I was told we needed to expand his repertoire for music. The plan was to build a play list for him, so he would listen to different songs, not just “Don’t Stop Believin.’” One day I played “Separate Ways,” another Journey favorite, while we were in the car to see if he would like to hear other songs by the band. About 30 seconds into the song, he had closed his eyes and was jumping in his seat to the song. Before the song ended, he had opened his eyes and looked on the front screen of the dashboard so he could figure out how to spell the title. He typed it in his phone so he could play it again and again.

Over the years, his love for music has grown. I realized that he loved music similar to what I loved, because it was what I had chosen to play in the car, as we drove around town together. One morning about a year ago, the song “Africa” by Toto started to play. I looked through my review mirror to check on Broden in the back and he looked like electricity had shot through every part of his body. At a stop light, I turned around and said, “Broden, this song is called “Africa” and Toto is the band.” When we got to the clinic, I wrote the song down and told the staff that he might want to hear it again that day.

A few months ago, I found out that Journey was coming to town. Jaime and Anslie, who work at Broden’s ABA clinic texted me, “Please tell us that you are buying tickets to the Journey concert. We want to go with you!” I didn’t think twice. I bought tickets for Mark, Broden and myself to go. Jaime and Anslie bought tickets near us. For Christmas, I told Broden that in February, he was going to a Journey concert. He looked at me as if he didn’t understand, “We are taking you to a place where Journey will be playing your favorite music in person. You will see them play your favorite songs and Toto will be there to play “Africa!” I still don’t think he understood.
The night of the concert, Mark and I were a wreck. As we were leaving the car and walking to the auditorium, I thought, “We are bringing Broden to a large auditorium filled with thousands of people where there will be bright lights, screaming fans and loud music.” I rolled my eyes and asked myself, “What possibly could go wrong?”

Once we walked into the auditorium, Mark put Broden’s ear protective wear over his ears. Mark grabbed the tickets so we could find our seats. The place was crawling with people. I held onto the bottom of Broden’s shirt so he wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. As we walked into the arena, I stood back to let Broden go in to see. Mark held his hand as he slowed down to look at the massive space filled with people. Jaime and Anslie eventually found us and were able to sit with us, since the seats next to us were vacant.

We sat down and started to get comfortable. Broden turned to me, “Go to car?” I turned to him and said, “No, we’re not going to the car. Toto and Journey are going to be on that stage over there. They are going to play your favorite music!” He still didn’t understand what was about to happen. The lights eventually dimmed and the crowd started to scream. Toto came out onto the stage. They played a few songs that Broden didn’t know, so he was still confused until they started to play “Rosanna.” Broden turned to look at me and started to smile. He figured it out. Broden was experiencing his first rock concert. The last song was the ultimate treat. Toto played one of Broden’s favorite songs, “Africa.” He was so excited, I had to calm him down. I can’t imagine having so much feeling coming through your body and trying to find the words to express it. That’s what was happening to Broden.
Finally, the moment we were all waiting for, Journey took the stage. Broden sang and he danced. Journey did not disappoint. After only playing two songs, they went big. They started to play “Don’t Stop Believin.’” I’ll never forget the moment Broden realized they were playing his song. He leaned in close to my face and I could tell he was using his eyes to show me his excitement. He started to jump up and down swaying his body back and forth.

There were moments throughout the concert that we needed to take a break. Jaime would help me walk Broden around so he could take some time to process everything that was happening. On one of our short walks, someone who worked at the auditorium noticed Broden and showed us a quiet room behind the stage, where we could sit until he was ready to come back to the concert. While we were resting in the quiet room, Broden still requested that Jaime play “Don’t Stop Believin’” on her phone. If it was up to Broden, Journey probably would have had to play his song over and over again. But one thing Broden learned was that the show goes on, and hitting replay was not an option. 

Broden held on as long as he could, and then we knew it was time to head home. As we were walking out, Journey started to play “Faithfully.” Broden turned around and smiled. I put my hand on his shoulder, “Let’s listen to this song and then we can go.” Broden swayed back and forth with his eyes closed, feeling the music move through his body. He was exhausted, but I could tell he was enjoying it. Once the song was over, we motioned to Broden that we could leave and head home. Broden was up two hours past his bedtime, and it was time to head back home.

Broden had an experience I don’t think he will ever forget. I’m grateful that Mark and I could give him an opportunity to feel the excitement and adrenaline of a live concert filled with music that he adores. Although Broden finds it difficult to voice what he is feeling, that night I could feel his emotion. I could feel him bursting with excitement and him desperately wanting to connect with us as he heard the music. Music is powerful. Music is so powerful, I think it has the ability to break through autism. We experienced it that night.  

Shelly Huhtanen is an Army wife stationed at Fort Jackson, SC. She enjoys sharing her experiences of her day-to-day life caring for her son with autism. For over 10 years, she has contributed her column “Puzzles and Camo” to EP Magazine’s military section. Shelly authored Giving a Voice to the Silent Many that encompasses many stories of raising a child with autism in the military. She also teaches Public Communication at the University of South Carolina. 

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