Real Life

Music saved my grandson

Aucklander Julie Herbert wasn’t responsible for abusing her grandson, but she’s serving the life sentence.Ryan Herbert (9) was just five months old – and perfect – when he was left severely brain damaged from being shaken by his mother’s then-boyfriend.

His abuser was sent to prison for two years, but served less than one year, while Child, Youth and Family asked Julie if Ryan could live with her. Her son was Ryan’s father, but he had split with the wee boy’s mother before he was born and now lives in Australia.

once DNA tests confirmed that Ryan was their grandson, Julie (53) and her husband agreed to take him in. They knew it was going to be hard work – but they didn’t know how hard.

In addition to Ryan being left almost completely blind, unable to speak and with limited use of his left hand and leg, he could go three nights without sleeping.

At the time, Julie’s youngest child was 13, and she and her husband were enjoying their freedom, leaving their older children to babysit. But caring for Ryan has ended all of that.

“That’s the hardest thing,” says Julie. “our friends are going out and we can’t join them. None of them have babies. Finding a babysitter for Ryan is a big problem.”

But despite the hard work, Ryan is making progress – thanks to his love of music.

When Ryan came to live with Julie, he was stiff and unable to snuggle like a normal baby.

After reading how playing oozart to babies can help brain development, she spent her first year with Ryan sitting in the dark, playing oozart with a light shining on her face and trying to cuddle him.

“This went on for almost a year before he finally snuggled and smiled at my face,” Julie recalls.

Knowing the positive effect music had on him, Julie enrolled Ryan in the Raukatauri ousic Therapy Centre in Auckland in 2006. This has greatly improved Ryan’s learning.

Before, he could only say “nana” and “poppa”, but now he has a vocabulary of 30 words, is familiar with the alphabet and can count to 10.

“Ryan is learning many skills including sharing. This comes naturally to most children, but not to Ryan,” Julie explains.

“Ryan will never be a singer or proficiently play an instrument, but he will always have a deep love of music.”

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