When you think of autism, the difficulties facing those who have the condition come to mind. Sometimes it’s forgotten that there are those on the spectrum, who are simply brilliant.
More than 1 in 100 in the UK have an autism spectrum disorder. The scale of the spectrum is so vast now, taking in Aspergers Syndrome, forms of ADHD and the severe types of autism.
One group that is not listed are those who have ‘savant syndrome’. It’s a condition in which a person demonstrates extraordinary capacities or abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal.
It’s not officially termed as a mental disorder but find the right person and it is clear to see.
Derek Paravacini is one of these people. He’s severely autistic and blind as well so everyday life is a struggle. Yet he is a musician. Specifically, a pianist.
He can play any piece of music off by heart after one listen. From ‘Over the Rainbow’ to ‘Moves like Jagger’ he can play it.
By the age of four he had already taught himself to play a number of pieces on the piano. Before long he was spotted by his now mentor and lifelong friend Adam Ockelford at the University of Roehampton.
But like any musician, he needed a lot of practice and a supportive tutor to improve his ability more and more. That’s where Kelly Smith comes in.
She started working with Derek in 2003 and has loved every moment of it.
He walked in the room which had quite a small keyboard in it. I said “Do you want to play me something” and he played ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. It made me cry. It was so beautiful. – Kelly Smith
Derek’s main problem like with most autistic people, is with the spoken word. He usually just repeats what is said to him and his vocabulary is very limited.
His talent, love of music, and – above all – the ability to communicate through sound rises above that. It means that he can make a living out of it, no different to any musician at his level of ability.
Day to day routines will continue to be difficult for the rest of his life. His rare gift though, will entertain thousands in the years to come.
It definitely shows that even if you are diagnosed with autism you are still capable of truly amazing things. Simply put: Derek Paravicini is a genius.