James was on track with his first year of developmental milestones.  

However, at 18 months, the pediatrician said that he was supposed to have more vocabulary (50 words vs. 5). 

By 26 months when he was diagnosed with Moderate-Severe Autism, he had lost even those few words and social responsiveness.  

Even with James’ severe language and communication deficits, he showed an early strength in the recognition of letters and numbers.  Before age 2, James could identify all 26 letters and recite them forward and backward.  

He responded enthusiastically to music, especially when “Baby Mozart” was played. After he turned 4, we found a piano teacher who was willing to teach him. 

Artwork by Liv Peterson

James’ language is very limited, but music is his strength – he has perfect pitch and learned to play piano at an early age.

Since 2016, James has played piano regularly for senior homes, hospitals, and most recently at the MSP airport either as a volunteer or as a paid position. Not only does his love for music bring enjoyment, but his hard work has also been paving the way to a greater independence of lifestyle that is more meaningful and better integrated within the community. 

A severely disabled person also has likes, preferences, and indeed, motivation to learn skills like anyone else. Seemingly unachievable outcomes can be attained through the love, patience, and persistent support from professionals and family members who believe in the person’s capacity and never lose hope for the disabled individual.