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How 'Pitch Perfect' Reminded Me of My Journey With Autism

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When I was growing up, I dealt with many challenges when it came to motor and sensory issues because of my autism. I also had emotional issues because of my limited speech growing up. That’s why when I was 6, my parents got me involved with a multi-handicapped summer camp to get me interacting with kids. This was when I first had the opportunity to sing.

I remember singing one of the biggest songs of 1994: Elton John’s “The Circle of Life.” I got through about one chorus before I started crying from stage freight. Being in front of an audience full of strangers for the first time was overwhelming, and I felt overloaded.

The thing was, though, no matter how overloaded I felt then, I still loved the music. The next year I came back to camp and was ready to belt my heart out, and that’s exactly what I did. This led my parents to get me involved with theater programs for children with disabilities. I would end up doing drama for the next 12 years; it became part of my therapy.

In college, I began to take another look at how I could tie my love of theater into being an autism advocate. I started consulting for films starring characters with autism, like “Joyful Noise,” starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton in 2012. I felt like this was my big break. Then, later that year, I got to reflect on my journey with autism when the movie “Pitch Perfect” came out.

“Pitch Perfect”  is about a girl named Beca (played by my crush, Anna Kendrick) who comes to college ready to be in her own little world of music and the hope to one day moving to Los Angeles to become a DJ. She’s later convinced into joining an all-girl a capella singing group and facing off in collegiate competitions. To be honest, I had minimal expectations for the movie. However, I was shocked by how much I could relate to Beca. I was drawn to her love of music — but I was also drawn to her because she felt exactly like I had when I started college.

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I wanted to be in my own little world with my music and my activities, and it was hard for me to branch out on my own. My saving grace freshman year, though — like Beca — was joining a group on campus where I could make my first friends. I was an outsider who found my niche later in my story.

While I sat in the movie theater as the credits went by, I couldn’t help but think about how Beca had tried something new and came out of it with a different outlook on life. It really made me think of what my life would have been like if I hadn’t tried theater. Would I be as confident as I am today? Would I be a national speaker?

What “Pitch Perfect” might have reminded me about the most was what Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the leading autism-advocates in the field always says — that you need to stretch these kids in our community. You have to show them what’s out there for them and try to help them reach to the stars. My parents put that mentality into me at a young age with the “three strikes rule.” I would have to try something three times and after that, if I didn’t like it, I could give it up. No questions asked.

I hope for our autism community that we can keep that mentality. The potential is out there for many of us to do great things as we progress as individuals but also as we learn more about autism.

Now let’s look forward to “Pitch Perfect 2” coming out in May!

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Originally published: January 30, 2015
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