We just announced the first recipients of our 2013 grants, including the 2012 Bill Graham Award to Hidden Wings, which works with young people with autism. We were deeply touched by this letter we just received from directors Jim and Julie Billington about the school’s work, the healing effects of drumming, and how Rex is helping to further this effort.
Dear Sandy and everyone at the Rex Foundation,
For the last couple weeks I have been walking around with my jaw opened, after learning that Hidden Wings has won the Bill Graham award.
We are just a little school up in the Chumash mountains that has fallen in love with rhythm as a way of allowing young adults with autism to communicate.
We have fallen in love with drums.
It was several years ago that Mickey Hart broached the subject to me that what has brought such a relief from loneliness to those with the afflictions of old age could do so with young people with autism.
And these words could not have come at a better time. Almost everyone with autism are kids under 18. But now we are seeing these kids grow up.
Once a person with autism reaches adulthood, society largely abandons them.
Autism is about cute babies. When those cute babies grow up, I think that people assume that they go to Mars, or to a colony in Alaska, or just become normal.
But they are in fact babies with autism who have grown up.
But instead of cute they are awkward, grunting, non communicative.
For an Episcopal minister, it is a source of shame to me that in churches these precious souls are rubbernecked, snickered at, and wished away.
And so with society.
Even though there are a dozen miracle cures that each cost a fortune, they are not miracles and not cures.
But then I heard something entirely new from Mickey Hart.
Here was someone whom I hardly knew, from a band I had never much listened to before, telling me that drums would help relieve the tremendous burden of loneliness and frustration of people with autism.
Now four years later the drum is the heartbeat of our small school.
We do lots of outdoor things: kayaking, hiking, ocean swimming. Hard exercise reduces anxiety.
And then we drum. The kids now go on their own to the marvelous table drum hand made by Remo Belli — with some spark and cajoling from Mickey “who is like my own son.”
Remo was our second miracle. Here was a man who has made drums for everyone from the Beatles to the late Michael Jackson.
He had never worked with autistic kids before. But he created a table drum that hit the sweet spot of the hearts and the heart of our students.
The students have their delicious meal of heart beats, eyes encountering eyes, lives touching other lives.
Even in the worst frustration, the drums can take it. And what they give back is a sonorous “chill out, it’s going to be ok.”
Mickey bridles at the thought of a legacy. But for the kids at Hidden Wings, including two of my own, they will ever be grateful for that “force of nature” that let rhythm take away loneliness
and help set them free.
I am dumbfounded that the Rex Foundation, made up of so many terrific people, musicians who have reached hundreds of thousands of people, could see that what is happening at Hidden Wings is in fact not unique but could happen anywhere.
And I truly believe, that in the years to come, drumming will help thousands of people with autism
gain voice, have hope, and give love.
On behalf of all our students, and all their parents,
Jim and Julie Billington
The Hidden Wings School
517 Atterdag Road
Solvang, CA 93463
Jim sends us a few photos from their last drum festival on Refugio Mountain. Photos by Amy May: