Since its inception in 2001, Berkshire Hills Music Academy has grown its student body from 14 to 49 young adults with various intellectual disabilities. Upwards of 40% of the student body now at BHMA is on the Autism Spectrum. We had the opportunity to speak with Jeremy Swartz, a LIVE (Long-term Independent Vocational Experience) member and Performance Troupe member, about his challenges and successes as a young man with autism.
How are things different now that you're at BHMA?
“Having autism was pretty hard. I went to a program where people joked around a lot, but here at BHMA I’m treated like everyone else, plus I have the job of my dreams which is performing in a band.”
What’s something that you wish you could tell others who may not know an individual with autism?
"Every person is different and autism effects people differently. There are different challenges, but having autism doesn’t hold me back."
What are the top 4 things you've learned at BHMA?
1. Being flexible
2. Cooking independently
3. Getting motivated to clean
4. Managing my money
How do you think BHMA is unique?
"BHMA uses music to help students learn and that's good because a lot of people love music. The staff members are nice and helped me be more independent."
What do you tell people in the disability awareness speech you deliver when you perform with the Troupe?
"I usually give some motivational advice— 'if you’re a student with a disability, you can live a full life. If you’re a student without a disability, be supportive of your peers that do.' That’s the advice I like to give others."
You just finished up a four show production of Hello, Dolly… Congratulations! How did it go?
"I’ve been doing Black Cat Theater for three shows, and was part of the chorus— this is my fourth show. I went into the audition and I wasn’t even expecting to get a callback for a lead role— I was just hoping to get in, but then I got an email saying that the director wanted to give me a callback. I went back in and did my best knowing that I might not get the part, but then a few days later I got an email saying that I got the part! The lesson learned is: dreams can come true if you work hard and that’s what I had to do."
Aside from theater, what are some other things or activities you enjoy?
I love sports, singing, tap dancing and playing guitar. Originally I started playing guitar when I was 10 but I decided to put it on hold because singing was my passion, but then I decided to get back into guitar, and I’m enjoying it. I also have lots of friends and some special friendships at BHMA — I have a great relationship with my housemate and fellow bandmate, Tori— we’ve known each other since 2009 when I first came to camp here and we’ve formed an incredible bond."
You started at BHMA as a summer program student in 2009— do you have any memories from that time to share?
“Summer camp was how I met my girlfriend and a lot of friends. I remember there were fun activities and music to do and it was my first time being away from home. My first summer I stayed for two weeks and the following summer I stayed for 4 weeks— which was hard, but I made it through and loved it, and then the following summers I did 4 weeks again until I became a full time student here."
You transitioned from the dorms to off campus housing last year, how's that experience so far?
"All four of us are best friends. We get along well. I learned how to be motivated to do my chores and I learned how to pay my own rent and learned how to cook on my own!"
What goals do you have for yourself?
"I hope to continue to be a performing musician. I love it."