88 Keys & one sound — how autism can feel
In my mid 20s I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a Summer working at a camp for kids with Autism, ADHD, Tourette syndrome and other neurological disorders, called Camp Winston (located about an hour and a half north of Toronto).
Prior to this experience, I had several years of experience working at Summer camps, but no experience working with kids that had neurological disorders.
While I learned a lot at other camps, this Summer was one of the most rewarding and challenging of my life.
My responsibilities were to essentially hang out with Autistic children, ranging in age from 8–18, and do all sorts of fun “camp activities” with them. Everything from basketball to arts & crafts.
I knew little about autism and how it actually works and was quite nervous about the experience before it began. Prior to the Summer, we received training on how to work with the kids, along with how autism itself works, and more importantly, what we know about how kids who have it feel.
During one of the training sessions, I remember very specifically how autism was first described to me:
“Imagine a computer keyboard that works perfectly, but is missing several keys, so when you are asked to write a sentence it often doesn’t make sense, even if you know exactly what you want to say. You simply can’t communicate it.”
Here’s what happens if I take out the top row of my keyboard and try to introduce myself.
Hll, m nam s Jff Bzn. as bn n Kngsn, n, Canada. Hav a f namd Cn and a dg namd Nd.
Here’s with the full keyboard:
Hello, my name is Jeff Berezny. I was born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I have a wife named Courtney and a dog named Indy.
Needless to say, taking away core aspects of one’s communication can be crippling. And, as I understand it, this is how someone with autism can feel.
What drove me to write this post today, was a reflection on the importance of that experience in my life, spurred by me seeing a recent advertisement for Android phones.
The ad features a musician playing two pianos. Both pianos have 88 keys, with one of them tuned normally and the other tuned to play only middle C.
Here’s the original spot:
The first time I watched, I thought for sure that it was for a neurological disorder of some sort. It immediately reminded me of that training I had way back about how difficult it is for someone with autism to communicate.
I was wrong though. It is an Android ad that takes a poke at how all Apple iPhone users are the same. It’s actually a great creative idea, and I love the execution. So, no knock to Google and Android, I just think it would be better served helping people understand how difficult it can be to communicate for those that have autism.
SO MUCH is happening in the minds of people with autism, much like the musician in this spot, but when they don’t have the proper tools to communicate, much of it is lost.
So, I thew together a quick new edit of this spot, to end more in line with where I thought perhaps it should.
I don’t pretend to know a lot about autism or about how it works. What I do know, is that I met some unbelievably amazing kids that Summer at Camp Winston. I learned that they have so much story to tell, if people are willing to spend the time and listen.
My hope is that this post can inspire others to think differently about those with neurological disorders that are potentially misunderstood. Try and understand them in a different way, because they can communicate, you just have to be willing to listen in a different way.
Always very interested in any further thoughts and insights readers might have.