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Oñate High School drummer with special needs rocks the internet

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Oñate High School marching band member Isaac Brealey-Rood went viral after his mother posted a video of him drumming during a football halftime.
Nathan J. Fish, Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES — Two brothers from Oñate High School — including one who has intellectual disabilities — gave their mom a surprise of a lifetime when both appeared in the drumline during the band’s first marching performance of the season.

“I’m floored, I had no idea this was going to happen,” said Carissa Brealey Bonacci, mom to Aidan Brealey-Rood, a sophomore, and Isaac Brealey-Rood, a freshman.

Carissa’s video of that performance has gone viral, viewed more than a million times on Facebook, and the story has been picked up internationally.

The story began last semester when Aidan decided to go out for marching band and asked his mom if Isaac — who has special needs — could attend summer band camp with him. Carissa, with some hesitation, agreed.

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“It’s a lot of work in marching band and Isaac needs a lot of supervision. He can’t play anything so I wasn’t sure about it,” Carissa said. But she figured Isaac could help move equipment or provide water.

Carissa said Isaac wasn’t very communicative when he’d return home after a day at band camp. “He just says he has fun with his friends, but he was happy, so I felt good about it,” she said.

Going viral

But when Carissa saw Isaac was a performing member of the band, she was overcome with tears of joy.

“Seeing him out there with drumsticks in his hand was incredible,” she said.

During performances, Isaac bangs on a drum pad, which is muted. Aidan plays the marimba drum.

Carissa posted video of the performance to a special needs children’s group on Facebook.

“A few of them asked me to make the video public to share it,” she said. “About five or six hours later it had thousands of shares and last time I checked it has over a million views.”

The story has since been picked up by Upworthy and even CTV, a Canadian English language television station.

MORE: Las Cruces resident with Down syndrome in national campaign

Bond between brothers

Bonacci said Aidan, 15, and Isaac, 15, have an incredible bond. She said Isaac was adopted from Colombia when he was 3 years old and the boys have been inseparable since.

“At the time we were not aware of his capabilities when we brought him home. This is something that all unfolded as he transitioned into life here when he was 3,” Bonacci said. “Isaac is happy and silly and he’s got a great sense of humor. He likes feeling helpful and included and he looks up to Aidan. Anything Aidan does he wants to do. Isaac gets along with all his siblings. He’s an all-around great kid.” 

Aidan said he wanted to share his love for band with Isaac and loves seeing him just be a regular kid like the rest of his peers. 

“He personally enjoys it, and being with people who accept him and are happy with him makes it special for him,” Aidan said of his brother. “I thought it was amazing how he was able to do that with me. It’s something I never thought I would do with him, so it was really awesome.” 

Just a regular band kid

Shawn Silva, director of bands at Oñate High School, said it’s bizarre that the video is getting so much attention because the band directors think of Isaac as just a regular student. 

“As big as it is, we never sat down with the band kids and told them we were going to have Isaac. We never had to say anything. Since day one we always say, ‘We take care of everyone period,'” Silva said. “To me, it’s just Aidan and Isaac, like any other kid in the band.”

MORE: Oñate Royal Knight Regiment state’s top band in NMSU Tournament of Bands

Silva said the brothers couldn’t have chosen a better instrument to play, especially because drums are therapeutic for special needs children.

“It’s the power of music. Him hitting those sticks on the pad is a stimulus for him; that’s how he functions. He wants to get that energy out and it works for him. I think it’s pretty amazing,” Silva said. “This is really music doing something for Isaac.” 

Valentino Leyba, director of percussion for the Royal Knight Regiment marching band at Oñate High School, works directly with Isaac and said he and another special needs student — who has cerebral palsy and plays the bass drum — are great additions to the band.

“(Isaac) will make us laugh. His personality has helped contribute to our culture and our attitude with everyone. Isaac is just a band kid,” Leyba said. “He’s capable of doing a lot of things in this program. What he’s doing is acceptable and he listens very well.” 

Power of inclusion

Bonacci said she has been nothing but impressed with the school’s mindset toward special needs students.

She said she hopes the video will inspire other schools and communities to treat everyone equally and to teach with love. 

“Isaac liked middle school, he was happy there, but he’s on a whole other level of friends here,” Bonacci said. “I come pick them up from rehearsals and he has his own group of friends. They talk to him like they talk to each other and I never thought that was something that would be a part of Isaac’s life. It makes me so happy every time I see it.” 

The Oñate band’s next public performance is Friday at the football team‘s homecoming game. Oñate and Americas kick off at 7 p.m. at the Field of Dreams, and the marching band is scheduled take the field at halftime, about 45 minutes to an hour into the game. 

Jacqueline Devine can be reached at 575-541-5476, JDevine@lcsun-news.com or @JackieIsDevine on Twitter.

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