My 6-year-old son is on the autism spectrum. He is a piano prodigy and I frequently post his videos to my YouTube account. One day this past April, a video of him playing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” went viral. Our family appeared on NBC’s Today Show, Mr. Joel personally reached out to my family and Ethan’s story was told worldwide.
That YouTube video received over 1,296,700 hits. Ninety-nine percent of the video comments were positive, such as, “Made tears come to my eyes watching this amazing young God-gifted talented young man!”
Then, of course, there was the other 1 percent. There’s always that 1 percent.
True, the negative 1 percent of comments mostly involved my camerawork — as in, “You’re an idiot (or moron or simpleton or dummy or… choose your adjective) to hold the camera portrait instead of landscape.” (Guilty as charged! Lesson more than learned.)
But then I read this comment: “[Autism] is not a gift, it's autism. And autism is bad.”
Music is in my son’s soul. Music is part of him. Music speaks to him — and through him. Music allows him to transcend the obstacles in his life. Music is one of the few things where he doesn’t have to try twice as hard to get half as much. Music is his gift, and it’s a priceless gift. Priceless for him, priceless for me and priceless for (almost) everyone who watched his video.
My son — my child with autism spectrum disorder — brought smiles and joy to literally millions of people across the globe! He united us all in the span of a four minute and fifty-five second video.
Yet, this random strange man who watched my son play “Piano Man” said his gift isn’t really a gift at all. It’s autism, and autism is bad.
(Just to note: This random strange man did not like my son’s video, but he did click “Like” on the “How to make a V10 Lamborghini sound with your mouth” and “Shortcut to big muscles” videos. Um, yeah. We won’t be meeting at The Plaza Hotel for afternoon tea any time soon.)
You want bad, random video commenter? Here’s bad. Bad is a 6-year-old senselessly murdered in a Colorado movie theater. Bad is to search 18 years for a kidnapped child, and to one day learn of the horror she endured while confined. Bad is to watch a child dragged into the ocean by a riptide and simply vanish. Bad is a day where you wake up — and your child does not because her life was claimed by SIDS.
When you think about those truly bad things, my son’s condition pales in comparison. My son brings more joy, light, laughter and, of course, music into my life than I deserve. For me, his autism is a gift that keeps on giving. It's just a gift we have to manage. And that’s not bad. It's not bad at all.
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