By Rebecca DiFilippo, Publisher, Moods Magazine
I recently had the pleasure of attending a remarkable presentation at a local elementary school, which was given by an extraordinary group of young adults. The purpose of this event was to enlighten the students about what it is like to live with a disability — to help others to understand the importance of inclusion, and belonging.
Over the years, Moods has published numerous personal stories and informational articles involving mental illness, which also touch on the topic of belonging and feeling needed. For this reason, I felt the need to share this relevant and important presentation with our readers.
An amazing and talented band called SUPERFIRE gave their ICAN presentation. The band members of this group are, in their own right, superheroes for the work they do sharing their personal stories and feelings in order to help others understand how it feels to be looked at as being different and sometimes even being bullied.
The band began as a music therapy group in 2007 under the compassionate and guiding hand of music therapist, Bill Murray, of Accent Music Therapy. Despite the fact that each band member has “special needs,” their accomplishments have been astounding. They have learned to play various instruments, write songs and even recorded two CD’s. They have appeared on the CTV news show “Making a Difference” and have played at many elementary and high schools across the GTA, as well as Nathan Philips Square and even at the Hard Rock Café.
The message of the band’s presentation is “Disability does not mean inability…. Special needs can be overcome with the help and support of family, friends, school and the community. We all have things we need help with or that make us unique…whether we have a disability or not…to see that they are just like you, full of hopes and dreams and challenges.” During the presentation, each band member spoke to the elementary students about their individual disabilities and the struggles they deal with as a result. I was both intrigued and astounded by the enthusiastic response of the very young audience. SUPERFIRE managed to captivate their attention — the students were fully engaged, clapping and shouting positive responses to the questions so cleverly thrown out to them.
Here’s what the band members shared about themselves:
Brad, who plays an intense keyboard, and performs powerful vocals, was born with Williams syndrome. He says, “I have some medical challenges as well as learning disabilities, so it takes me a lot longer to learn things, which other people may learn pretty quickly.” People with Williams syndrome often have a great aptitude for music, so it is not surprising that Brad can play both the keyboard as well as performing vocals. He says “one of my best accomplishments I would have to say, is working with my friends in SUPERFIRE, doing exactly what we’re doing here today at your school. Using our music to spread awareness about people with disabilities and inspire hope that the world can be a better place for people who are different.”
Jamie, an enthusiastic and energetic guitarist, who also sings, has cerebral palsy. He had a stroke before he was born, leaving him with a weak left side and a droopy right eye, which is partially blind. He sometimes has seizures that are difficult to control and also has hemiplegia, which affects his left side. His left arm is smaller and weaker and sometimes his balance is off, but he still plays guitar, coaches ice hockey, goes to dances and volunteers with other kids with greater challenges than his own. Jamie wants people to know that “My disability is part of who I am so I want to have people treat me fairly and like an equal.”
Jeffrey, the band’s drummer, was born with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. He says it takes him longer to learn things and he struggles with fine motor skills such as writing and tying his shoes. Sadly, he says that sometimes people sometimes make fun of him. With a lot of hard work and determination, he managed to complete the CICE program at Humber College and is now working at Home Depot. Jeffrey says, “I’m very friendly and I like people and talking to them. Music is my passion. I practice my drumming every day.” This savvy drummer has the beats under control — his passion shows through in his spirited, intense and accurate rhythm. He not only loves rock and roll, but this musician knows electric guitar brands and the names of more rock celebrities than I could ever recall.
Kyle, who wasn’t able to attend this event, lives with Batten disease. He was blind by the age of seven, making it necessary to live through hearing and feeling. Sometimes he has seizures, making it difficult to control his body due to shaking and he also has challenges in walking. Although, blind, this determined musician learned to downhill ski and also waterski. He has focused much on music and learned to play guitar and harmonica. Kyle says that he “wants my friends to still come around and not be afraid of me.”
Ray, who plays guitar with gusto and zeal, was in a terrible car accident caused by a drunk driver when he was only three years old. His skull was shattered causing an acquired brain injury. This talented youth explained how he has “a hard time staying organized and can’t remember too many things at once. I sometimes do things without thinking.” Ray had to re-learn everything, including how to walk and talk again, but now he can skateboard, golf, ride a bike and has even completed his bronze medallion in swimming. He graduated with his high school diploma and is now working and also wrote a winning essay for a contest on “Why You Shouldn’t Drink and Drive.” However, he is most proud of “how I taught myself to play the guitar by ear and that I get to perform and play the music I love with SUPERFIRE.” Ray would like people to “be patient and treat me with respect.”
Taylor, a passionate and vibrant singer, has an unbelievable stage presence, which allows her to engage the audience in a big way. Born with Down syndrome, the singer says it affects how she learns things. “I can still learn everything other kids learn, but I have to try a lot harder. It takes me longer to write and read, but it hasn’t stopped me from writing songs,” she shared. The singer competed in figure skating for the Special Olympics and won first place. She skis, plays soccer and basketball, but her most favourite thing to do is sing. Taylor wants “people to respect me and accept me for who I am.”
And let’s not forget the bass player and music therapist, Bill, who believed in this unique group of kids from the get go. Through Bill’s thoughtful guidance and confidence in their abilities, SUPERFIRE has thrived and is now using their talents to spread their message and help others.
As I watched this awesome presentation, I recognized a prevailing theme that has been voiced by many contributors to Moods over the years: Regardless of the disability or illness one might have, we all still want to belong, to be needed and accepted for who we are. Although we may be different in some aspect, whether mentally or physically, we don’t want to be treated in a disparate way. Being different doesn’t mean being incapable. Everyone has their own special gift to offer, areas in which they excel, and it is those positive attributes that we want to be recognized for rather than our disabilities or illnesses.
Sometimes, we need to be reminded that although we may appear different because of how we look or act, we still have the need to be accepted and to be a contributing member of society. Ultimately everyone needs to be loved, understood and belong. The work SUPERFIRE is doing is helping to make this happen.