Moncton drummer finds community, inclusion in music

Christian Arsenault has played the drums since 2006, when he got a beginner kit to bang on at home, but it wasn’t until Inclusion NB’s social inclusion program connected him to a local music producer, that he had the chance to play in a band.

“It’s given me this feeling like there’s something else; there’s something in there that was hidden from me,” says Christian, 29, who joined the Moncton alt-rock band Before the Dinosaurs in 2021. “I needed to find a skeleton key.”

As a musician on the autism spectrum, he didn’t have many opportunities to play music in groups due to social and sensory challenges. His support from bandmates and Inclusion NB has made all the difference.

Connecting to Community

In 2021, Jordan Best, a Moncton musician, was trying to get a new band together when Mike Oz, a local recording engineer, introduced him to Christian. Christian and Mike had been connected through Inclusion NB’s Social Inclusion Program several years earlier. The program helps adults (17-64) with an intellectual and developmental disability have a greater sense of belonging in their communities and provides real opportunities to live where they choose, develop relationships, and participate in community life in meaningful ways.

Key to the program’s success are Inclusion NB’s Social Inclusion Facilitators, who work across the province in both official languages as “bridges” to community life. They take a customized approach, learning about each person’s unique goals, interests, and passions, to provide good-fit options and connections. Depending on their goals, the program also helps people plan for a home of their own with any necessary support they may need.

Christian’s mom, Claudine, had been referred to Inclusion NB as she was looking for ways to help her son, who was 19 at the time, connect to the community. She says that their Social Inclusion Facilitator was very interested in Christian’s story, and “very resourceful.”

“They really delivered,” Claudine says.

Christian’s facilitator not only connected him to music, his activity of choice, but ultimately to a group of people with whom he can share his passion.

“It means the world to Christian to have someone to share in his dream to pursue music,” Claudine says.

When Jordan and Christian got together for their first jam session, it was clear they had something special.

“Instantly, it was a match,” Jordan says. “Christian was so tight, and I could tell he played intuitively. It’s almost like he reads our minds when we play. He just knows what we’re going to do next.”

Expanding Diversity

Since playing with Christian in Before the Dinosaurs, Jordan has noticed “missing pieces” in diversity, equity, and inclusion in music. While there is increasing support and funding for artists of different races, genders, and sexualities, Jordan thinks it’s time for neurodiverse people to be part of the conversation and get the support they need to be included. Jordan is working to change this. His long-term goal is to create a gathering place for local musicians that welcomes everyone.

“I wanted to show people it was possible,” Jordan says. “Christian, he’s a straight-up professional musician, and he inspires me to keep going.”

One of the ways Jordan and the other bandmates help Christian is by giving him rides and ensuring he feels comfortable and safe, especially if they are playing in a busy, noisy or high-sensory environment.

“Christian is just one of us,” he says.

Claudine has seen her son’s confidence grow since he’s been in the band.

“I’m very proud of him. He’s gone a long way as a musician and a person,” she says. “It’s giving him opportunities that otherwise he wouldn’t have.”

For Christian, being part of the band can be summed up in one word: “Brotherhood.”