When I was growing up, I dealt with many challenges when it came to motor and sensory issues because of my autism. I also had emotional issues because of my limited speech growing up. That’s why when I was six, my parents got me involved with a multi-handicapped summer camp to get me interacting with kids. This was when I had the first opportunity to sing for the first time. I remember singing one of the biggest songs in 1994 at the time: Elton John’s “The Circle of Life.” I got through about one chorus before I started crying due to stage freight. Being in front of an audience full of strangers for the first time was very overwhelming for me, and I felt overloaded.
The thing was though no matter how overloaded I felt then I LOVED the music! The next year I came back to camp and was ready to belt my heart out, and that’s exactly what I did. This led my parents to get me involved with theatre programs for children with disabilities. I would end up doing drama for the next 12 years, which became a part of my therapy along with speech, occupational and physical therapy.
When theatre and music stopped when I was in college, I began to take another look at how I could tie my love of theater into being an autism advocate. I started consulting for films starring characters with autism like Joyful Noise starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in 2012. I felt like this was my big break. Then, later in 2012 I got to reflect on my journey with autism when the movie Pitch Perfect came out.
Pitch Perfect is about a girl named Beca (played by my crush Anna Kendrick) who comes to college ready to be in her own little world focusing on her music and the hope to one day moving to LA to become a DJ. She later is convinced into joining an all-girl Capella singing group and facing off in Capella competitions on the college level. To be honest, I had very minimal expectations for the movie. However, I was shocked by how much I could relate to the character of Beca. Not only was I drawn to it by my love of music, but I was also drawn to it because that’s how I felt like when I started college.
I wanted to be in my own little world with my music and my activities, and it was very hard for me to branch out on my own. My saving grace in my freshman year of college though, like Beca, was joining a group on campus where I could make my first friends. Much like Beca, I was an outsider who found my niche later in my story.
While I sat in the theatre at the end of the movie as the credits went by I couldn’t help but think of how Beca had tried something new and came out of it with a different outlook on life. I thought to myself of my years of theatre, and it really made me think of what my life would have been like if I didn’t try it. Questions came to my head about whether things like my confidence would have been the same today. Whether I would have been a national speaker today if it wasn’t for what theatre helped me with.
What Pitch Perfect might have reminded me about the most was what Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the leading autism-advocates in the autism field today’s always says, and that is you need to stretch these kids in our community. You have to show them what’s out there for them and try to help them reach to the stars. My parents put that mentality into me at a young age with the “three strikes rule.” I would have to try something three times and after that, if I didn’t like it, I could give it up, no questions asked.
I hope for our autism community that we can keep that mentality. The potential is out there for many of us to do great things as we progress as individuals but also as we learn more about autism.
Now let’s look forward to ‘Pitch Perfect 2!’ coming out in May!