by Stephanie L. Carlin
As a person with high functioning autism, some people have occasionally asked me if there were any autistic musicians I looked up to. Besides my father, I didn’t know many autistic musicians growing up and didn’t know where I could find their music because it was before the age of YouTube and Facebook. April is Autism Awareness Month and to celebrate, I thought it would be nice to look into some autistic musicians.
To be clear, I’m only going to mention those who were announced to be formally diagnosed. There’s a lot of speculation on the Internet as to which celebrities, not just musicians, are on the autism spectrum including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who wasn’t formally diagnosed. However, the reasoning behind this speculation can sometimes be insensitive or ignorant which, of course, is not the appropriate tone for this piece. If you have some musicians that you would like to recommend, feel free to comment but all I ask is that you fact check that they have been formally diagnosed. Anyway, on with the list!
James is a singer and guitarist from Santa Cruz, California who placed fourth on American Idol in 2011. Since the show finished, he’s released three studio albums, two EPs and just last year joined the heavy metal band Quiet Riot. He has been very vocal about having higher functioning autism – formally known as Asperger’s Syndrome – and Tourette’s since his time on show and as been as advocate for rights for those with autism.
Derek was born 25 weeks prematurely, blind and an autistic savant. Doctors weren’t sure if he was going to make it to adulthood. Regardless of those factors, he was able to mimic songs at a very young age. His teacher, Adam Ockelford, first met him at a school for the blind and admitted that while there was a sense of chaos and “karate chop” to his playing, he was actually able to make out songs like “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” in his first lesson. Now, at 38, Derek has played all over the world including this lovely TedTalk that you can check out below.
The AutistiX! is an indie rock band from London made up of members on the autism spectrum. They’ve performing at festivals all over the world showing the capacity for players with disabilities are limitless. They’ve been recently working on a new EP called The Meadow in the Sunshine and you can expect to see them this summer at the Crouch End Festival and the Alma Street Festival in England.
This classical pianist is not formally trained but, like Derek, 17-year-old Michael Fuller started cataloging songs that he would hear as a kid and reflect them in his voice. Eventually, he moved to the piano and taught himself how to compose. He has since composed many vocal pieces and symphonies that you can find on iTunes and Spotify.
Jodi DiPiazza is a pianist and singer who’s been performing since she was three. Even when she first began playing, she has the ability to recreate whole songs by just hearing them. She is a long-time contributor to A Night of Too Many Stars, a televised event in New York City that fundraises money for autism education. She’s performed with a plethora of amazing musicians including Laura Benanti, Cynthia Erivo, and so many more, but this performance is a personal favorite.
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, here are the donation links for the Autism Research Institute and Autism Society which helps autistic individuals find safe homes and communities. For anyone interested in activism, please check out the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.