Our Stories


There is an undeniable and universal magical element to music. Whether you’re creating it or listening to it, music has the ability to inspire and connect us like few other forces in the world. On the evening of the 2023 Hope & Possibility gala, we watched that magic unfold for 11-year-old May Center School student, Presley.

As hundreds of guests milled about during cocktail hour, upright bass player Marshall Wood caught sight of Presley out of the corner of his eye. He saw her standing from afar, eyes zoned in on the grand six-foot instrument.

He wasn’t surprised when she eventually walked up to where the musicians were stationed, accompanied by her supervising teachers that evening. She looked at Marshall and his bandmates and asked them bluntly, “Are you a three-piece jazz band?”

As a student enrolled at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Wilmington, Presley has always demonstrated an affinity for all things music. In fact, one of her favorite questions to ask new people is who their favorite composer is!

As the stepfather of a young man on the spectrum, Marshall is no stranger to the autism community. Raising his stepson broadened his understanding of autism and the complexities associated with it, and ultimately influenced his compassionate, patient, and empathetic nature.

“I am keenly aware of autism,” he tells us. “It’s something I have always been sympathetic to. It brings out my best angels when I’m around people with special needs.”

Despite the fragility, size, and price tag of the instrument, Marshall was more than willing to provide Presley with her first stand-up bass lesson! “She scientifically looked at it, listened intently to the sounds, and mimicked exactly what I was doing,” he recalls. “I thought, we might just have a bass player on our hands!”

While she gave the accompanying instruments a try, Presley was most enthralled by the bass and its mechanics. She expressed a strong understanding of Marshall’s tutorials when she took things into her own hands (literally), correctly using the bow and precisely plucking the four strings.

“I was struck by her intensity,” Marshall continues. “She had seen the bass and made a b-line for it in the crowd. Then she proceeded to do things that were very logical, the way she plucked the strings. It wasn’t random or haphazard – she did it with intention!”

As Presley began to play the notes, she discovered a way to express herself that didn’t exist before that night. She was able to experience the connection of mind, touch, and sound, and how the three paired with an instrument can provide an entirely new and unique form of self-expression.

“The whole night was special, because it was the first time we’ve ever had a student attend an event like that,” says Dr. Cara Phillips, Executive Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities where Presley is a student. “It was made even more special because she adores music, and she was able to have that memorable experience!”

At the end of the night, Presley walked away with a lasting memory and her first bass lesson under her belt. Not only did she enjoy connecting with new people, she also unlocked a new form of self-expression: music.

“For individuals with autism, music has the potential to be a great and positive tool in their life,” Marshall reflects. “That’s why I’m always willing to facilitate those introductions to my bass!”





"Last week my wife’s family was over for Passover dinner. And one of my nephews had just had a birthday last week. My brother-in-law said “Whose birthday is next? Whose birthday is April 22nd?” Matthew’s hand shot up. And it was a very deliberate act; not just random, like some of his responses are to things. He knew what they were talking about, he knew what was being referenced, he knew what the date was and what it represented to him.

We never knew that! We never even thought to know that. And here it was. He did know it.


You have to accept what your child is. Matthew’s not going to throw baseballs with me or play catch every day. That’s not going to happen. But those few times when I can get him outside and say, “Matthew, let’s go out and throw the football around, ten times.” And he does it with me ten times. That’s a win. I love those moments.


Last night for his birthday, Matthew – for the first time – sat down and opened his presents. He had an interest in opening his presents. He didn’t really acknowledge them much; but he sat down and he opened them. My wife and I just looked at each other (cheer)… and those are the moments you have to accept as your wins. It could be the smallest little thing. 

Whether it’s a puzzle he learned upside down, or he can now tell you what eight minus six is, those are what you focus on, those are what you accept. You don’t look for the things that aren’t going to happen because he’s not a typical child.

And if you can accept that, that’s when you start to really see people and families grow when they have a child on the spectrum, because they are really able to enjoy those moments when they do come – and not focus on the things that they’ve lost. When you can do that, life is just going to be a series of wonders for you that other people would take for granted at this point because their child has been doing those things a hundred times, today alone, let alone the past several years. The first time Matthew does it or the second time or the third time he does it, those are all wins. And those are what you jump onto and those are what you embrace and those are what you love."

—Michael, Matthew’s father