Non verbal Autistic Musician Kyle Coleman
Kyle was once thought to be totally nonverbal as a symptom of his Autism. Here is the story of how he discovered his singing voice in this interview with Caroline Coleman and her son Kyle. Kyle is a
Leslie: This question is for Kyle. Kyle, do you like singing?
Kyle Coleman: Just Listen.
Caroline Coleman: Yeah he’s telling you he likes to sing Just Listen. That’s his favorite song.
Leslie: Okay, that’s your favorite song. Do you play any instruments?
Kyle Coleman: Piano and drums
Caroline Coleman: He can play the piano and he is having drumming lessons. So he plays two things quite well.
Leslie: Very good so you’re very talented.
Caroline: But like any percussion, Kyle can play any percussion instruments. I know piano isn’t really a percussion instrument but he can play most percussion instruments. Like we’ve been teaching him things, were having drum lessons just to help him with timing when it comes to singing but his timing is pretty good anyway but yes he plays the piano and he plays the drums. That’s the best answer we thought we could give and that is coming from Kyle and not from me.
Leslie: Well that’s great, I tried playing piano and I’m horrible at it so I admire anyone that can play the piano. [laughs]
Caroline: So, well I can’t play the piano, but Kyle just picks it up by ear. So he hears a tune and he remembers that tune and he can play the melody of that tune on the piano. So you know, it’s quite remarkable, I mean I know he is not the only person who can do that.
He had about four CD’s in his bedroom that he would listen to and he’d learn all the songs of his CD’s and he can play them on the keyboard and he can sing them in pitch perfect and then we realized that he can not only play songs that he actually had all this vocabulary, in his head, and he can sing with pitch perfect. What we did then, we just saturated him. We went shopping. I said to Kyle, “Would you like to choose a CD and then we got CDs and then come home and he’d learn them in time and the music therapist was coming the following week. So he was learning like, you know, 12 to 13 songs in a weekend for her visit on a Monday.
Caroline: (To Kyle) Yes, you did, didn’t you Kyle. He thinks that’s funny.
So he did that, then come Monday he’d be playing and he’d be singing, I mean this is like the amount of this absorption, I mean it’s so high and so wow and we have never seen anything like that, you know. So that was it Leslie, we realized that was the doorway in you know, and I just decided to expose him to as many musical outlets as I could possibly expose him to.
So, basically I just then started to have an idea that he might like to hear his voice recorded. So I took him to the music studio that wasn’t too far away from where we live and I spoke to John down at the music studio and I told him that my son was autistic, can Kyle come record some music and he said “Yeah, we’ll have a go, we’ll see how we get on and well make it as easy as we can for Kyle and so that’s what happened. He recorded a song, and it took him only 3 takes and did it perfectly and then from there we decided to make an album to raise Autism awareness that we released on World Autism day last year and we didn’t realize that we’d get that amount of attention, we just put a little thing in our local paper that Kyle’s Autistic, he’s a local guy and it went from our local newspaper that only has about 2,000 to 3,000 readers to national newspaper and then that went to CBS news in about 48 hours they got it. News travels very fast. And you know as a result, we now sell albums all over the world now and you can buy it through ITunes or Amazon and also you can buy it on our website kylecoleman.co.uk and you can also buy a physical copy from distributors here in UK that we send abroad as well, and it’s great we haven’t sold a million copies yet but we sell a lot and what we make is invested back into another album that were releasing. Well, we are trying to release it at the end of this year but it’s going to be likely released on World Autism Day next year 2014 because there’s still quite a lot of work to do and his next album is all original tracks and that has 13 tracks. They’re all original. Every track, they represent many facets of Autism so were trying to educate people and raise awareness through the powerful way of songs. So [the song] “Just Listen,” it’s all about the communication difficulties and some are just verbal, and that you have to feel and sense what was conveyed to you and use your instincts and your intuition more, which as a mom you surely understand that when you’ve got a child who is non-verbal, you don’t know what’s going in their heads, you know, guess work, it’s highly sensitive, you have to be intuitive. So that’s what “Just Listen” was all about, go beyond the words and just really feeling what somebody with Autism was trying to say and there’s a quote by William Shakespeare that I really like and it says, “When man seizes to talk he then starts to communicate,” and that was what really inspired me and Lucy Sky writing that song because it’s such a powerful statement, by probably one of the best writers in the world. So that’s how we came to write, “Just Listen.” The songs were working on now…
Leslie: I’m sorry to interrupt. So you write the lyrics? I was going to ask, who does write the lyrics?
Caroline: Yeah, I write the lyrics. I mean me and Lucy Sky wrote the lyrics to “Just Listen,” she was one of the representatives from the National Autistics Society over here in the UK, which is the biggest organization of Autism. She just happened to be a songwriter and I approached her because I needed them to back me up, we just couldn’t get out there in the media. She said, “I can write songs, I’m a musician.” And I said, “Well, great! I mean I’m not that great of a musician but I am a lyricist. So you know I’m now working on this new album which will be out next year and I’ve written all but 2 of the songs in this album, Lucy has written one, John Carter who does the musical arrangements for me has written one and I’ve written the rest which are all about how autism effects people. We’ve written one, and I finished one that’s called Standing on Solid Ground which is all about why people need to stim and rock and behavioral patterns. It might look strange but it’s a kind of way, it’s a common thing, it enables people to make sense of the world and find some kind of equilibrium if you like. It’s kind of an Indie rock tune, so it’s quite a rock top number. They are very current sounding songs. They aren’t a ballad and such they are very chart sounding songs. So that’s kind of what we’re doing now.
Leslie: Exactly, well, I think you answered all my questions. What I wasn’t sure of was, who was writing the songs,who was writing the music but Kyle, I heard you sing, and you have a beautiful voice. I have musician friends here and they are very impressed. They think you have a wonderful voice and you have a beautiful talent so I wish you all the best and I hope we can get you some added exposure. What is the most important message that you wanted to share with our readers?
Caroline: Yeah, that would be great. Yes and I’d just like to add that you know all the songs that we write is, well they are all inspired by what Kyle gives us in terms of the way he is and the way he connects with us and you know what he tries to tell us in his indirect way if he likes, I’m hoping that it does touch the hearts and minds of everybody that comes in contact with Autism and especially parents, caregivers and grandparents because it’s like the song I wrote “I’m Faraway,” which is all about how Kyle had language. He had language, he was learning quite fast and he was ahead of his time and then he got to 18 months to 2 years and all the language he had learned just disappeared, and this is a story that is heard again and again and again. I’ve written a song called “I’m Faraway” when once Kyle had a voice and now it’s just an echo that is lost beneath. I’m hoping that these songs, not only raise awareness but act as a way, you know parents that can tell the same story I’ve just contained it in the song in a musical piece. So it’s not only to raise awareness but it also a thing. I’ve got 26 years of Autism under my belt so I’m fairly well versed and it’s kind of like, don’t give up, don’t think that this is it ‘cause it’s not, you know you just have to find the hook and it’s music for Kyle, it could be airplanes for another person, it could be animals, horses or whatever. There is something that you can get in there and it’s just finding that door and then opening that door. As a parent or as a caregiver you need to facilitate that door they can’t do it themselves, so that’s the intent of my work here, where with Kyle he showcases it just through the fact that he’s got a natural affinity to sing and play music. We don’t want to take over the world; we want to do it very sensitively. I’m very aware of not overexposing Kyle I need to be sensitive to his Autism. So he has his own privacy. I’m not looking to do a World Tour or anything like that. We have been offered record deals and all that kind of stuff but we turned all that down. We’re just very sensitive to making sure that we can still show the world what Kyle can do. It’s important that he gets to show, he progresses as a musician so I need to give him these opportunities as they come along and some exposure but it just needs to be done in the best possible way so I tend to align with people like yourself, magazines that are promoting Autism awareness in a most sensitive way, so that’s kind of what we do.
Leslie: Well, I think it’s wonderful and I do agree, I believe that everybody should use the talent that they have, for me its writing and I wanted to help the autism community and give the knowledge and information that they need. I know as parents we’re always extremely overwhelmed and tired and you don’t have necessarily the time to go and keep up with the latest research and the latest therapy, so I wanted to start a magazine that would put it all in one area, one location to help parents and I think you’re right, I think every person has one thing that if they could really focus on, they could become really fantastic and they have so much to offer. So I know with my own children what strengths they have.
Caroline: Yes, like from your writing, that’s your passion and in a way that is part of the journey, you obviously have skills for writing and its’ like I see it as you know my song writing skills and I looked at it as being at service to Autism and it’s quite therapeutic in some ways and I’m not going to use healing or therapeutic because it feels good rather than just being frustrated, you become proactive. So I sense myself that in writing, it’s kind of a cathartic experience to me and it’s an exercise or a way I can join Kyle in his world. Well, we don’t have a conversation in a way that you and I have a conversation that we can have a conversation lyrically and I think that’s been really good for me as a mom and it takes away, the kind of overwhelming responsibility that we have because we do have children, teenagers, adolescents with complex potent needs. For me, it takes away the kind of that sort of overwhelming life task that we have and it’s something that you can join your children and it just seems like a natural process for both of you. In your case you’ve got 2 children [on the spectrum], I just feel it, that’s how I’m processing it, that it just seems I can naturally process me and Kyle in our relationship to actually be musically involved in one another and it feels very grown up and it feels very mature. It’s just the next chapter of our lives really, it’s like a rite of passage for both of us it gives me a sense of really realizing now, I’m in my late 40’s now and Kyle is in his mid-twenties I kind of feel now, it’s almost like I know why I’m here for now. So it has a therapeutic effect on us and that’s what I’m hoping too that other parents get that too, I’d love to think that they can also feel that.
Leslie: Well, I thank you so much for meeting with me tonight and so if you want to get Kyle’s album. Do they go to iTunes or do they go directly to the site?
Caroline: They can go to iTunes, they can put Kyle Coleman in the search engine and it should just come up with the album title “Who I Am” and also if you go to Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Therefore-I-Am/dp/B007B8CO9Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378689505&sr=8-1&keywords=kyle+coleman or http://www.amazon.co.uk/Therefore-IAm/dp/B007BBY174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1378689701&sr=8-2&keywords=kyle+coleman, put Kyle Coleman. And in addition to that, you can just go to his website which is http://kylecoleman.co.uk/ If you go through the pages at the top of the website, you can click on one of them and it would bring up his album and then you just click the order and then it will come straight from the distributors. I think you can pay through PayPal. So if you want a physical copy, that’s all you have to do, but if you want a digital download, you can go through the ITunes or Amazon.
Leslie: Well, thank you so much, thank you Kyle.