My name is Justin, and I want to tell you my story. I graduated this past year from Berkshire Hills Music Academy. I came back this fall as a member of the extended learning program called LIVE to develop work skills and gain employment. I am now pursuing music vocation with the Performance Troupe. Coming to BHMA was my calling. My peers welcomed me with open arms. It was way different from other places I’ve been. Middle school was an absolute nightmare as I was disliked and separate from other kids – because they didn’t understand me and didn’t understand autism.
I want to tell you about some things I’ve learned in my last two years here. I learned how to communicate better with other people and I learned to take risks for myself to do things I wanted to do. Before I was really shy and when talking with new people I’d just talk about myself and did not listen to anything they had to say. At Berkshire Hills, I learned to listen and be respectful of others and what they were trying to tell me.
I also learned to be responsible for myself. The first time I danced solo at BHMA was at our weekly Variety Hour. It was a special moment and I did a tap dance to a favorite Broadway song. I practiced every day in my free time, I made choices for my costume and how I wanted to present the piece, and I made sure my music and props were organized and in good shape. I asked staff for help along the way and you’ll be happy to know everyone was so impressed and I was proud of myself!
BHMA is different because it takes a different approach. It uses music to work on non-music goals like social skills, life skills and vocation skills. It’s a tribute to many people who are just like me, who have disabilities, but great abilities! I am encouraged to express myself and learn through music. It’s changed my life. I’ve learned so many things about myself that I thought I never could. I’ve learned to be true to myself and that I have things to share with the world. Being part of BHMA makes me proud to have autism and makes me believe in myself as a unique and valued person. My work with the Troupe is a dream come true!