This guest post is by Ethan Franklin, a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Berklee School of Music. Ethan is applying for the Spring 2021 Making a Difference Autism Scholarship via the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference started by me, Kerry Magro. I was nonverbal till 2.5 and diagnosed with autism at 4 and you can read more about my organization here.
Can I ask for a favor? I’m trying to make this nonprofit self-sufficient so I can make this my full-time job supporting the special needs community and would appreciate you taking a minute before reading on to watch this video below and subscribing to our Youtube page here to get to learn more about the work we do in the community.
I hope you can support my nonprofit like I’m trying to support these students with scholarship aid for college. Learn more on how you can help our cause with a small donation (just asking for $3 today, equal to your daily cup of coffee) here.
Music captures the rhythm of the living world. From the time we are born, we instinctively are comforted by music and move to its rhythms. Music has the innate ability to convey emotions without words. For some, music is felt on a higher level, and it serves as both their means for relating to the world and expressing themselves. I am certainly one of those people.
With my autism diagnosis, the correct words to convey what I am feeling are often difficult to find, but through music, I can communicate in a much more effective manner. I began playing drums when I was five years old, and later taught myself to play keyboards. Music was my constant companion during these early years, and after frustrating days at school when I felt as though no one understood me, I was able to release all of my tension and frustration by playing songs. Although it is it challenging to describe, it is as if my brain is bombarded by a whirlwind of stimuli that must be ordered and quieted in order for me to focus. Music allows me to filter out distractions and channel the buzz into movements. When I began playing with other musicians in my early teens, I finally understood what it was like to connect to other people. Through music, I found a way to communicate and build relationships. Through music, I truly found my voice.
As I improved as a musician, my growing talent led to opportunities that allowed me to build impactful relationships. The most memorable of these experiences was my first School of Rock AllStars Tour at age 15. After multiple rounds of auditions, I was selected as a School of Rock AllStar in 2018. Of the over 30,000 students in School of Rock system from 260 locations in 9 countries, only 1% of School of Rock students are selected annually as AllStars. Those selected are brought together for an intensive few days of rehearsals and then depart on a two-week, multi-city tour, playing at renowned venues. The excitement I felt upon learning I was selected soon gave way to anxiety, however. I would be flying solo for the first time and meeting musicians from across the country. I would be far from home and far outside of my comfort zone.
Upon arrival, I was initially overwhelmed. However, once we got into the hours’ long rehearsal the first night, everything changed. All of the initial awkwardness quickly faded into mutual support and respect. Once my fellow musicians and I began playing music together, we were no longer strangers. Instead, we were now bandmates. My passion for music allowed me to communicate with these amazing musicians. Much of the tour, which ended in a performance at Lollapalooza, was a blur of long travel days and rehearsals, punctuated with high-energy performances. But what I remember most was the camaraderie among the musicians.
I have been on many others tours since that first year as an AllStar, but nothing compares to that initial experience. I have maintained those core friendships, and I have continued to broaden my social circles via music performance. I am no longer the shy, awkward musician limited by his autism; now, I confidently work with other musicians and take to the stage without hesitation. I left the experience with an increased love of music performance and a renewed certainty that I want to be a professional musician.
When I play music, I can express myself without ever opening my mouth. In those moments, I never have to worry about finding the right words. Music has been the catalyst for building confidence, forging relationships, overcoming challenges, and establishing my identity. Through music, I have had opportunities that steered my trajectory for my high school years, college choice, and my career plans. Without a doubt, music will always be the driving force and center of my life.
My name is Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum that started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education. Help support me so I can continue to help students with autism go to college by making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit here.