Autistic middle school student tackles stigma and directs high school band

Autistic middle school student tackles stigma and directs high school band
8th grader, Caleb McAllister has Asperger's, but he's never let that stop him from doing what he loves, directing the high school band. (Source: WECT)

WHITEVILLE, N.C. (WECT) - Caleb McAllister is an 8th grader at Central Middle School. He lives with Asperger Syndrome, a disorder that can make socializing with others difficult.

Aspergers can also help some focus better and pay attention to the smallest details, something that is vital to learning songs and hitting the right note. That works out perfectly for Caleb, who plays the trumpet in his middle school band Monday through Thursday, and directs the Whiteville High School band under the Friday night lights.

Music has been known to bridge the communication gap with those who have special needs and Caleb’s mom, Matreese, wasn’t surprised when her son said he wanted to play an instrument. After all, she was in the band and Caleb’s sister is in band also.

“Next thing I know he was rehearsing, and I was wondering, ‘is he really playing?'" said Matreese. "He’s really playing, he’s really playing, the very first time I heard him, his teacher recorded it and sent it to me and I’m sitting in the car bawling because he’s playing. He loves it and he’s good at it.”

Caleb has been a star in the eyes of many since the school year started and he’s made a name for himself. The band director at Whiteville High School, Ian Semanovich, said Caleb is one of the most enthusiastic students he’s seen and he picks up on the music pretty fast.

“He’s one of the most excitable students that I’ve seen here in Whiteville," said Semanovich. "He goes right along with everything that we do and is ready for any changes we have, new stand tunes and everything. Even though he’s never heard them since he’s at the middle school, every day he just jumps in and goes right along with it.”

Caleb’s mom said music has been a passion of Caleb’s for some time now. He always walks around with headphones in and whenever his sister is practicing the flute at home, he always picks up his trumpet and tries to learn the music.

Caleb’s favorite song to play is “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

“When he’s listening to music, he’s clearer, he’s calm, and it keeps him focused," said Matreese. "When he’s got his headphones on, lord knows what he’s listening to, I don’t find that out until the aftermath, but he loves it.”

Caleb said he’s never nervous when he gets up in front of hundreds of cheering fans to direct the band. Once he graduates middle school, Caleb said he wants to keep playing the trumpet, in the same band as his sister.

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