The ten-year-old autistic girl sits at the piano for the first time in her life. She stretches her fingers, and takes a deliberate breath, precisely copying the preparation she has probably seen in a Youtube video.
And then she plays, with feeling, and without fault, her fingers falling on the keys, with such ease, like raindrops. And, as if that weren’t enough, the girl who struggles to speak, who will not hold a conversation, suddenly sings, and holds every note, perfectly. And from Bach to Bacharach there has rarely been a more beautiful melody. And the words she cannot say are finally flowing. And the eyes that will not look at you are brimming with joy.
At first relatives and friends come to see, and eventually she ends up on one of those TV talent shows, and Simon Cowell says, “It’s a big yes from me.” And everyone in the world marvels at this miracle.
That’s the movie version, anyway. The one that reinforces the well-worn trope that autism comes with a gift bag, usually some marvellous, mathematical ability. (After all, fundamentally, music is just maths.)
In reality, though, Sophie’s fingers produced a cacophony, her melody might be unkindly called caterwauling, and Simon Cowell would say, “It’s a big no from me.”
But I thought it was brilliant. Sophie wrote a song! My Soph! She had the lyrics on a sheet in front of her, written out in pencil, just like I used to do when I was a teenager. The lyrics were,
…except Sophie’s writing is better. The way it goes is,
“Sophie and Elsa
You and me
We go to a playcentre
(BestoMatz is a playcentre that Sophie is very fond of. Like any good writer, she’s sticking with what she knows. Good girl, Soph!)
Yes, those lyrics are less Lennon and McCartney and more George Harrison, but my early lyrics weren’t much better. I wrote songs for years, always hoping that one day I would reach the pinnacle of singer-songwriterdom (which is, of course, winning the Eurovision Song Contest) or, at the very least, get a woman to notice me. (This did not happen. Martha loves me despite my singer-songwriting.)
To me, Sophie’s song sounded as beautiful as the movie version. The first time. Then she did it again, and again, and again. While that may sound autistic, when I did it I called it practice (and Martha called it torture.)
I went out to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I stood by the kettle and listened to her, and I had a maudlin, metaphorical moment, where I couldn’t help thinking about all the songs in her heart trapped by her autistic brain. Years ago, those sort of thoughts used to linger. There isn’t a parent of a child with additional needs who hasn’t thought, ‘what if she (or he) were…’
…but, these days, those thoughts are fleeting, and quickly, pride rushed in again. And I thought (and I think I can speak for everyone here), ‘Fuck you, Simon Cowell, my Soph is a songwriter!’
Because someone always asks, I have no problem with you sharing this, if you want.
Also, I have a book out called ‘Corn Flakes for Dinner – a heartbreaking comedy about family life’ if you want to read more stories like this.
Image credit: Izzy Anderson