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My Son on the Autism Spectrum Is a Stage Performer

The house-lights dim and the stage stands aglow. The audience is bustling with excitement when a video flashes on the screen with a countdown. Ten, nine, eight — everyone is on their feet. Seven, six, five — the roar of the crowd fills the room with a thick unmistakable energy. Four, three, two, one!

It’s showtime!

There’s nothing quite like that moment just before a concert begins. You know the one! I’ve felt this rush of anticipation and excitement many times as a teenager attending rock concerts with my friends.

Swaying back and forth to our favorite Bon Jovi ballad, and screaming the lyrics to Ozzie Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” so loudly that our voices were horse the next day… ahh the good ol’ days!

Fast forward to 2019 and there’s a new musician whose live shows I never miss! His performances always manage to energize and stir up more emotion than all of the other concerts I’ve been to combined.

When I watch him up on stage I am always in complete awe of his accomplishments, because I know how far he’s come. I know the many trials and struggles he’s persisted through. I know how hard he’s fought to be up there. I know because I am his mom.

Jacob is one of those lucky people who has been blessed with an ability to hear a song once and then play it. He started taking piano lessons right around his 4th birthday and taught himself to play drums by watching youtube. He’s since taken a variety of music lessons and is learning different styles of dance to incorporate into his act.

Jacob loves being onstage, entertaining and interacting with the crowd. He’s performed on national television outlets and with symphony orchestras. He’s helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for different charitable organizations.

If you had told me that Jacob would be doing all of this a few years ago, I may have had a hard time believing it. You see, when Jacob was 4 years old he was diagnosed with autism.

That day back in December of 2011, when the doctor broke the news of the autism diagnosis, I thought his life could never be the same. That he would never have the future that I had always envisioned for my smart, energetic, little boy.

Why did this happen to him? What kind of a future does autism bring? How will he survive in a world he does not understand, when we’re no longer here to take care of him? These were just a few of the thoughts spinning in my head as I sat crying on the developmental pediatrician’s couch.

I don’t remember much else of what was talked about after receiving the diagnosis. The doctor gave us some handouts and I left with what felt like someone different. Jacob was no longer just “Jacob.” He was now “my son with autism.” I felt angry this was happening to my child.

I walked on eggshells for sometime after the diagnosis, afraid to discipline or upset my son because his diagnosis made him seem frail and vulnerable.

Until one day, I was sitting watching him practice the piano and it occurred to me that my focus was in the wrong place. Jacob was still the same little boy. Nothing about him had changed; the only thing that was different was the knowledge I had gained about autism.

It dawned on me that I should be focusing on his abilities rather than this diagnosis. Jacob had skills and talents, as all children do, and my job was to help nurture and develop those gifts.

We trudged forward with therapies and treatments, and it wasn’t always easy. In fact, autism brought on even more challenges as Jacob got older. In those difficult times, however, focusing on my son’s abilities gave me hope. And hope gave me the strength to keep going.

“All children have gifts and talents; we might just need you to help us discover them” — Jacob Velazquez

A version of this story originally appeared on Unique, Different, Cool.