Teenage drummer publishes digital magazine about living with autism – The Morning Sun

Many musicians tap their feet to the beat, but not Shelby Township drummer Grant Harrison. As his peers from the Utica high school bands casually stamp their feet, Harrison nods like a quiet heavy-metal drummer.

Grant, 16, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – a term used to describe a neurodevelopmental disorder on the autism spectrum. The term Asperger’s refers to a high-functioning autistic person, but since 2013 the term has fallen out of favor with the medical community. People with this condition are no longer distinguished from others on the autism spectrum. The characteristics of autism vary from person to person, but generally include repetitive behaviors and social challenges.

Grant, who is entering his senior year at Utica High School, is doing well in school. He maintains a high grade point average and is a member of the school wind ensemble, jazz, march and orchestra. He also plays drums in an after-school social group called The Basement Group, which includes several friends and his younger brother, Bryce.

Grant successfully manages his symptoms – which include anxiety and resulting panic attacks, restlessness, social malaise, hearing and speech disturbances, and textural issues – by redirecting his focus and other techniques. It’s his hearing impairment that causes him to bang his head while playing, says his mother, Tracy.

“Language is difficult for him, and that’s because he hears like we hear underwater,” she says. “That’s why the drums are perfect because he can feel the beat.”

In addition to positive cognitive support, playing with the groups helped Grant manage his anxiety, develop socially, and boost his self-esteem.

Grant started playing drums in second grade after Tracy, who played clarinet, noticed her son was interested in music. Knowing that other types of instruments may not work for Grant, Tracy encouraged him to try drums. She hired drum instructor Carol Boufford to work with her son privately, and the two formed a connection that would continue for years.

After learning from Bouffard for a short time, Grant expressed interest in performing on the fourth-grade talent show. His performance was so well received by his classmates that he became known as “the kid who plays the drums”. It was a significant boost to Grant’s self-esteem.

In addition to music, Grant is a longtime member of the BSA Scouts, having recently attained the rank of Eagle Scout, the Boy Scouts’ highest achievement. A requirement of Eagle Scout is the completion of a significant community service project. Grant, who has blogged online about his life with autism, published a 26-page digital magazine about his time with the band, “Music Through Autism’s Eyes and Ears.” The purpose of the magazine, which is available online at Grant’s website, FetchTheSwell.com, is to raise awareness about living with autism.

“It’s hard to understand what it is (to be autistic) because it’s more of a mental type thing than a physical thing,” Grant says. “I want to make a change in the community to explain what it is and promote change.”

Sixteen-year-old Grant Harrison plays drums in Utica High School bands. He recently published a digital magazine about his life with autism to earn his Eagle Scout badge. Photo by Debra Kaszubski

Grant hopes to continue publishing the quarterly digital magazine. He named the site after a surfer dog’s persistence in riding a wave, which is a metaphor for Grant’s determination to succeed through all societal barriers. Grant, who has been blogging for several years, has uploaded numerous articles and photos to his website. His goal is to show people the human behind the diagnosis.

“You see so many medical things, but this is about a kid with good grades and doing well,” Tracy says. “Me as a parent, I would have loved to see something like this when Grant was young.”

Find Grant’s work on FetchTheSwell.com. Or, to learn more about autism, visit autismspeaks.org.

Amanda P. Whitten