Young Man with Autism Relaxes and Fights Stigma by Playing Guitar While He Walks His Dog

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Garrett Blocker is a young man with autism and ADHD. He also deals with general anxiety disorder and moderate depression, which compound the stresses of his everyday life and make it difficult to connect with others. He’s found a unique way to cope, however, and it has the surprising added benefit of being the perfect segue into new conversations and friendships.

Every day, Garrett takes his dog, a black Labrador Retriever named Jake, for a morning walk, just like he’s been doing for the last six years. The walk is great exercise for both him and the dog, but it’s also a form of therapy. Music therapy, that is—Garrett brings along his guitar and belts out songs throughout the journey, honing his guitar skills and relieving some of the pressures of the day.

“I feel like it gives me a voice to say the things that I couldn’t say myself,” says Garrett. “I just want to be that voice that sort of de-stigmatizes that sort of stereotype, and show people that we’re people too. I don’t want [autism] to be the thing that defines who I am as a person.”

Some of Garrett’s favorites are songs by Green Day, Panic At the Disco, The Cure, U2, and more. But no matter what he’s singing, it seems he usually gets one of two main responses from the people in his neighborhood.

“Some people don’t say anything, but they pause to listen, and some people will come straight up to me and say something about it, how much they like it. I say, ‘Okay, thank you,'” explains Garrett. “To see people react to something that I do as an emotional release that’s solely meant for me and nobody else, yet it positively affects other people, is kind of positively disorienting in a sense. What used to terrify me as a kid, singing in public, has become the thing that I’m now best known for.”

And indeed, Garrett is pretty well known among his neighbors. Despite his mother’s pleas, Garrett usually walks Jake around 6 am, which means he often wakes up people in the houses he passes by.

“Kids that were in Garrett’s class, I would run into them when he wasn’t around, and they were like, ‘Yeah, Garrett’s my alarm clock. When he walks by my house I know it’s time to get up,'” says Garrett’s mom, Ann Neff-Rohs.

But on the whole, the community seems to love Garrett and appreciate his gift of music. And Garrett continues to find enjoyment and relaxation in the music. He even sings and walks later in the day, as he’s making the mile-and-a-half journey to and from work at Peckham, Inc., and he also performs with theatre groups. He’s also capable of playing the piano and trumpet.

“He lives for music,” says Amanda Smith, who was Garrett’s vocal coach in high school. “He’s always writing songs. He’s always talking about finding an opportunity to perform.”

Check out the video below to see Garrett’s musical talents in action.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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