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Listen to Our Stories: Words, Pictures, and Songs by Young People with Disabilities
Listen to Our Stories: Words, Pictures, and Songs by Young People with Disabilities



A Child with No Family

[Names withheld]

Young people attending the Margules Music Therapy Program at the Turtle Bay Music School, a private independent music school in New York City, composed the song in this section. When I spoke with its director, Diane Snow Austin, the program served adolescents who were separated from their birth parents and were living either in group homes or foster care. The reasons for separation ranged from child abuse or neglect to the death or incarceration of one or both parents.

All of the kids in the program experienced emotional disabilities, including chronic low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. They were considered to be at risk for drug use, teen pregnancy, and antisocial behavior. Some also had learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. The long-term aim of the program was to unite the young people with their birth parents or, at the least, another family member.

Diane Austin encountered anger and distrust in her students when she first established the program. Over time, however, with music as a tool, she was able to foster enough trust among the kids for them to begin the slow process of opening up to her, to each other, and to their own painful emotions.

The song included here was composed by three girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. One of the girls didn’t know who her father was, had not spoken to her mother for ten years, and had been sexually abused repeatedly since she was five or six. Another girl’s mother was in jail and had not been heard from for some time. The third girl’s mother had remarried, and the daughter felt unwelcome in her mother and stepfather’s home. She said that she and her mother had “disagreements,” which Diane told me probably meant she had been abused, possibly by her mother’s new husband.

The girls wrote this around the winter holidays. With no families to go home to, they were in a low mood. Diane invited them to talk about what was on their minds, urging them to put those feelings into lyrical form. One girl proposed the title, another came up with the first line, another with the second line or two, and so forth. Diane picked out chords on the piano. As the girls began singing along, they found their own melody and rhythm, and the song that follows emerged.

Click here to read the words to this song

For more information about the disabilities discussed in this story, please visit the Resource Links page.




spacerLinda Hillyer, compiler and editor of Listen to Our Stories
logo art by Adiyana Paramita
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