Nicholas Ryland

When I was a toddler, I was diagnosed with autism, and doctors told my parents that I would likely never speak again. Instead of believing this assessment, they decided to put me in an intensive program of occupational, behavioral, and speech therapy, sometimes for up to 50 hours a week. This went on for several years, and after a while it started to pay off. However, after all of that hard work I was getting frustrated with the programs, and it started to be more challenging.

One Sunday around this time my family was at church. I was singing loudly because the hymns were my favorite part of the service. After the service, an elderly woman approached my parents and said, “I’m a longtime music teacher; your son has such an amazing singing voice. It would be a crime for you not to get him some music lessons.” My parents thought about this, but they weren’t sure that music lessons were something that I had time for or would enjoy. However, they did wonder if this might be a way to make working on my speech goals more interesting and fun. After some thought, my mom met with a music teacher nearby and asked if he thought he could help me work on conversation and diction through music. Dan, a musician and producer, had never done anything like this but said that he saw music as one of the purest forms of communication, and he was certainly willing to give it a try. After two lessons he came up to my parents and declared that “Nick is undoubtedly a musician. He is in the right place.”

From that day on, I continued to take lessons with Dan, and we built an amazing relationship through our jam sessions. As we spent more time together, he began to teach me how music should be really expressed, and with time and experience I began to catch on. I have been able to jam in the studio with respected and well-known musicians, even working as a studio musician on a couple of albums. These lessons led me to apply to a Fine Arts academy and this gave me many opportunities to build my music skills and become a part of a community.

Now music is an important part of my life. Through mallets on a marimba, my hands flowing over the keys of a piano, or singing songs that connect my life with others, music has given me a community and a way to express my feelings in a way that I otherwise couldn’t, giving me both a literal and figurative voice. As a vocal performance major, I have a goal in mind: to inspire future hopeful singers with autism to pursue their dreams of becoming successful musicians. If I hadn’t taken music lessons, I wouldn’t be as successful of a person as I want to be today. So music is the one thing that defines me more than anything else, and I’m proud that I take time off to let my thoughts and feelings be expressed.

I hope to be a part of an upcoming generation of people with autism who have not been defined by their diagnosis and who have been able to be accepted and include, not out of charity or for having a disability, but for the things they are able to bring to their community. I believe I have had a positive impact on my high school and I look forward to doing the same when I go to college.

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