For Ben Jenkins, an 18-year-old piano prodigy on his way to one of the most prestigious music schools in the country, autism has been a gift in his life.
The high school graduate from Denver was diagnosed with the neurological disorder when he was 3 years old, and while doctors told his parents he would never talk or love, he’s become one of the most beautiful speakers and performers around town. Through music, Jenkins learned to communicate, and now, not only does he talk and love, he was accepted into the Berklee College of Music and is well on his way to becoming a musical engineer.
“Music helps me connect with others because I have trouble with words,” Jenkins tells Ellen’s Good news. “With music, I use my hands to speak to people. I look to the songs and the lyrics.”
After 14 years of therapy and a decade on the keys, Jenkins defied all expectations placed on him as a youngster. He was once told he should institutionalized because his autism was so severe, but instead, he worked hard, saw the bright side of his situation, and turned to Bach, Gershwin and Debussy to guide him through his struggle.
“The piano is most beautiful sounding instrument I ve ever heard,” Jenkins explains. “It gives me great emotions, it cheers me up, it gives me love and it helps me communicate with people when I can’t.”
Though he still struggles with articulation, Jenkins says he feels like a “typical man” now, particularly with an acceptance letter from an incredible college. He was also voted Prom King at his high school this spring.
In fact, the only thing standing between this inspiring pianist and a grander stage is money. His parents have spent so much on medical costs over the years, they cannot afford the lofty tuition at Berklee.
Jenkins has set up a fund to work his way to the top, and has booked a series of summer concerts to help raise $40,000 so he can go to school in the fall. So far, he’s about a third of the way there, and confident he will be successful.
"Nothing good in life comes easy," Jenkins says, but he’s all the better for a challenge. That’s what he’s learned from having autism.
“It can be the greatest asset in your life as well as your greatest deficit,” he says. “I struggle with tasks that people typically find easy. Communicating can be difficult but music has given me a way to show everybody, including people with autism, that if I set goals high, nothing is impossible.”
He adds, “As soon as you overcome autism, you discover that you can do anything… any kind of talent like music, cooking or sports, autism can be a partner and it can help you to be great.”
If you’d like to help Ben get to Berklee, you can donate here!