Piano Unlocks Potential of Boy with Autism

Zachary Slade2When Zachary Slade was an infant, his mother, Maria, knew something was different about him. He was colicky, he did not coo and unlike how other mothers describe locking gazes with their babies while feeding, Zach never made eye contact. In her gut, Maria knew that Zach had autism, but because he was so young, no doctor could officially diagnose him.

At 18 months, Zachary’s pediatrician, Marc Ritter, M.D., offered to set up an appointment with a specialist at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. “She’s the best,” Ritter told Maria.

One year later, Maria and Zach made the two-and-a-half hour trip to Rochester to meet with Susan Hyman, M.D., chief of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, who diagnosed Zach with an autism spectrum disorder at just 2 ½ years old. It was then that Zach began the specific treatment and services he needed. Right away, Hyman helped Maria get Zach into an integrated pre-school program in their hometown where he would attend school for the next three years.

Zachary SladeAs a toddler, Maria and Zach would watch children’s programs that emphasized music, and Maria noticed Zach’s fascination. She had elementary piano skills and would play for him on their piano at home.

“He would hear the music and would smile a smile that you never really see him do; it was a real smile,” Maria said. When Zach turned 3, Maria tried her best to find someone who would teach Zach how to play the piano. Because he was so young, no one would agree to teach him. When he was 4, Maria heard back from Ewa Lawrence, in Utica, NY, who agreed to give Zach piano lessons. Read more…

Watch Zach play Aaron Copland’s “The Cat and the Mouse” for his 2013 piano recital.

Learn more about how you can support the Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, one of the nation’s premier clinical and research centers in the U.S. for children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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