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358 || Mark Lucas: Helping Kids With Disabilities Find Their Rhythm

As a young boy, 25-year-old Mark Lucas was pretty typical in that he wanted to make noise — and lots of it! But it didn’t take very long for his family, and everyone else at his church, to realize that this kid wasn’t just randomly beating on a drum to burn off excess energy. Mark was born with an extraordinary ear for rhythm and a God-given gift for music.

Soon Mark was on stage playing percussion in the church praise band. He was 12 years old, and he’d found his calling — or so he thought.

Pathway To Purpose

If that path between feeling led to something and finding a purpose were always a straight shot, Mark might well be touring with a famous Christian rock band today.

But at 13, just one year after he started performing at church, Mark suddenly lost control of his muscles. It was the first in what would be come numerous, daily seizures brought on by epilepsy.

“Suddenly, I’d become a ticking time bomb. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was just a matter of when another seizure would hit.”

Mark remembers he always had a sense of impending doom at school knowing that at any second he could space out, lose control of his muscles and start making loud noises. Mark doesn’t like to dwell on his epilepsy, but he says that’s where he first developed a profound empathy for others. After enduring seven years of unrelenting seizures, Mark took the risk and had brain surgery.

Sometimes the deepest empathy is born from the most painful experiences. While the surgery did leave Mark seizure-free, he lost the use of the left side of his body.

Mark found physical, emotional and spiritual healing through his music, but it took time for him to remaster the ability to play with both hands.

“Through it all, Jesus lent a greater depth to my musical abilities,” he says.

Incredible Opportunities

Mark was given some incredible opportunities to further develop his musical potential. Not least was a chance to perform a live set with the popular worship band Jesus Culture. In front of almost two thousand people, Mark was invited onstage during a worship service.

That moment brought Mark the closest he’d ever been to staking his entire career on one musical performance. But it brought him even closer to the purpose he says he felt Jesus had been trying to drum into him since he was a little boy.

A New Focus

“The first time someone heard me play the drums and called what I was doing a gift, I knew that my music wasn’t for, or about, me,” Mark remembers.

Suddenly, Mark’s focus changed. It was no longer on his circumstances, or even on his musical talent. He focused on how he could use his circumstances and his talent together to help others.

To do this, Mark earned his bachelor’s degree in music at Jacksonville State University and completed his certification as a music therapist through the Drums and Disabilities (D.A.D.) organization. Today, he teaches the unique, percussion-based therapy to his students at The Music Room in Leeds, Alabama. Mark also takes interactive drum sessions to schools and organizations that serve individuals with disabilities.

Drums And Disabilities

“The wonderful thing about percussion is that there’s no big learning curve,” Mark explains the premise behind D.A.D. “We all have this primal instinct to recognize and create rhythms.”

Mark applies drum therapy to encourage and foster a sense of achievement in children with disabilities as wide-ranging as autism and attention deficit disorder. It benefits fine motor control, coordination, balance and communication skills.

Living Proof

Mark is living proof of the amazing results music therapy can have. Today, he’s regained almost full use of the left side of his body. “I found out there’s no right or wrong way to play music. There’s just doing it,” he says.

“There are so many different ways to play drums, tambourines, cymbals, and shakers. That versatility is important because it enables me to match a child with the instrument that will help him make the most progress with the least frustration,” Mark explains.

Mark also strives to maintain that delicate balance by varying the length of his sessions, based on individual factors, such as a child’s attention span and physical stamina.

“The best thing about music therapy is that it’s fun,” Mark says. “It can help break through walls of fear, anger, lack of confidence or poor self-esteem,” he says.

I-Can-Do-This Moments

When he talks about the miraculous breakthrough, I-can-do-this moments he’s witnessed, there’s no question Mark has found purpose in his passion. Mark shares an encounter he had with a little boy named Devin which illustrates this perfectly.

Mark brought a D.A.D. class to The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, where he noticed a little guy who didn’t want anything to do with the drums. Devin, who is about 8 years old, is blind and can’t speak. It was perplexing to Mark because he’d never seen this kind of reaction before.

“But I really tried to think about things from Devin’s perspective and his personal challenges,” Mark recalls.

“People with blindness are sensory seekers and often enjoy the tactile response of piano keys. As God would have it, there was (already) a piano in the room. I didn’t bring it,” Mark laughs.

Piano isn’t Mark’s first instrument, so he used his phone to play a few seconds of “Moonlight Sonata,” a classic piano piece. Then, Mark played the same notes on the keyboard with the boy’s fingers under his, so he could feel them.

What happened next is nothing short of miraculous. Mark repeated the notes from his phone, and again played it with his hands over Devin’s.

“I played the song on my phone a third time, but before I could move my hands back to the keyboard, Devin played it perfectly, note for note,” Mark remembers.

“It’s moments like those, and kids like Devin, that strip away all the pretenses, and I know that what I’m doing counts,” Mark says.

That day, Mark helped an 8-year-old boy who can’t speak and lives in a dark, sightless world express, through a few musical notes, more praise and wonder than words ever can.

For more information on Mark’s work, visit www.themusicroomleeds.com.

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