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Autism & how listening to music helped me learn how to talk

This guest post is by Tom Bak, a 17-year-old on the autism spectrum. 

My name is Tom and I was born with autism. I was diagnosed when I was 3 years old.  Growing up with autism has had its ups and downs, but one thing that has always helped me is music.  I have been interested in music for as long as I can remember.  Listening to music helped me learn how to talk.  I said my first words when I was 4 years old right after listening to a Fleetwood Mac song.  I told my mom “play again.”  I learned to play guitar and piano in elementary school.  I’ve found sight-reading is easy for me.  Because I can sight read, I am able to write the melodies that I hear in my head into songs.  My sister is into music too.  We started our own band with 2 of our best friends.  We play live shows in the Philadelphia area and I’m proud that most of the songs in our set list are original songs that we wrote.

When we introduce the band at our live shows, we tell the audience that I am the lead guitarist and a musician with autism.  I like telling the audience about my autism. One reason is because it helps them understand why I have to stand very still when I’m performing in order to keep my focus.  My sister says that being honest and open about my autism will open more doors than it will close.  A few times after we’ve told the audience that I had autism, they cheered for us really loudly.  That always makes me and the band feel really good.

I believe that the music community is an accepting place for people who are different.  Artists, like David Bowie, were seen as different early in their careers, but found acceptance in the music world.  I believe the music community is open to people who are different.  I found happiness and acceptance in the music community.  So I’m hopeful for other kids with autism to find the same.

Have a story about growing up on the spectrum you want to share for our “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.