This post is by Benjamin Tarasewicz, a teenager with autism. This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives. Have a story you want to share for the series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.
Benjamin wrote this "In Our Own Words" post after being interviewed by the Denver Post – he is a precocious public speaker who inspires audiences with a presentation titled Living With Autism: Breaking Barriers. His presentation recently won the Temple Grandin Award and is the subject of a highly touted book.
The Denver Post interviewer queried Benjamin about his reactions to music because it has figured so largely in his autism therapy throughout the years. Benjamin’s viewpoint illustrates the depth of feeling that someone with autism can have – and debunks the myth that autism shuts down emotional sensitivity. This is Benjamin's story....
Music and singing have been part of my life ever since I can remember—and even before the time that I can recall! My mom has written a book about my journey with autism (I keep rereading it, and learning more about myself…), so I know she used music to motivate me and to get me to connect with her when autism kept trying to shut me down. Eye contact was hard for me, but when Mom started singing, I couldn’t help looking. For years, singing helped me get over various speech difficulties and even now, Mom reminds me to use my “musical voice” when my talking gets a bit robotic and flat. Music has always touched my heart and core, it seems.
Playing the violin has been a therapeutic activity for me ever since I was three years old and I play in our local Youth Symphony. I also connect with other people through playing chamber music—like duets, trios, and quartets. Lately, I have played several lead roles in musical theater shows—there’s a newly formed group called “Tapestry” where kids like me are the primary actors, while neurotypical kids are mentors and understudies, supporting all of us on stage while also becoming wonderful friends. For me, music is the perfect bridge for relationships.
At school, every student in my Language Arts class has a writer’s notebook. Sometimes we do journaling and I recently wrote about my love of music. I’d like to share this entry with you:
One of my favorite things in life is singing in choir—I’m in the big Festival Choir at school. All my friends are in choir with me and it always brightens my day to see them. This year, we are 100+ singers; gorgeous sound! We sing amazing classical works and also spirituals and other things. In music, which has chords with intensely beautiful dissonances (like Eric Whitacre or Morten Lauridsen’s songs), it makes me feel overwhelmed with awe and I get intense sensations in my body.
At times, my heart feels like it is being squeezed and I think of colorful, iridescent fireworks bursting or showering. Other times, I’m soaring like an eagle beyond earth’s atmosphere, beyond gravity. Sometimes, there’s the bubbly tickle-prickle of soda pop in my chest from excitement as I become part of the dissonances. The different feelings shift like the waves of an ocean and can be followed by an amazing feeling of resolution, like I’m floating in a warm sunset tidepool with schools of tiny, tropical fish. I’m so relaxed. In general, I feel so much joy that I want to become a bird and fly away to heaven, riding on the music like a glider riding on thermals!
On days when I’m feeling down, singing in choir makes my day so much better; music can be incredibly therapeutic. In fact, I sometimes think about compiling my favorite classical choir pieces to make a music therapy album. My idea is to help someone who’s in terrible grief for instance or to help calm anxiety--that’s part of what music does for me.
In a recent concert, we performed movements from “Carmina Burana” with the Fairview High orchestra. It is such exciting, intense music and I just know that the walls of the church shook with sound when we performed! I am sure I’ll be singing all my life and plan to be part of various community choirs after high school.