Autism and the “Piano Man”

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Six-year-old with autism proves to be a true ‘Piano Man

By Courtney Garcia, contributor

Billy Joel may have met his match in Ethan, an autistic 6-year-old piano savant, whose take on the rocker’s hit, “Piano Man,” is so distinct, the only stray from the original seems to be a missing harmonica lament. His remarkable cover of Joel’s music is only the latest in a series of acoustic renditions the young boy has mastered, from Beethoven to James Taylor, The Eagles and Coldplay.

According to his YouTube Channel, he’s been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a social and communicative disability affecting speech and emotional behaviors. The disability does not seem to have slowed Ethan down on the path to musical enlightenment, however, as he’s able to play nearly every song by ear, learning new pieces in a matter of days. On many of the videos, including “Piano Man,” Ethan not only whisks away at the keys, but sings along, encouraging his guitarist sidekick to join the melody.

“Let’s singer it together!” Ethan screams, as they begin the famous “la da di da” interlude of Joel’s opus. “Sing it again! Sing us a song!”

Also on his YouTube page, Ethan performs Coldplay’s “Clocks,” a song for which Ethan “figured out the melody after four listens.”

Research done by the National Institute of Health in 2006 found that one in every 110 eight-year old children were diagnosable for an ASD, and that among non-Hispanic white children, the rate increased to one in 101. Additional studies have shown that the disorder may debilitate some cognitive functions while enhancing others, though there doesn’t appear to be a definitive explanation.

“For many years people have assumed that autism is associated with mental retardation and we’re now finding out that’s not true. People are realizing there are a lot of brilliant individuals,” Harvard pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist Martha Herbert told “There seems to be something different about the way people with autism process sensory information. We all have eyes and ears and info comes in, but then it goes into our brains and signals get transmitted to a variety of places. Information in those with autism may get transmitted faster or slower, hitting relay stations down the line at different times…Certain kinds of details get picked up better.”

Herbert also pointed out that varying IQ tests provide contradictory results in children with autism, some showing significantly higher rates of mental disability than others.

Be it a sign of brilliance or something else, Ethan undoubtedly rocks like a superstar on his piano, and his fan base is quickly accruing.

“Fantastic!” Writes anozchik on YouTube. “He is interacting so well, and if music is the way he chooses to communicate then aren’t we all blessed to be able to share it?!”

“Billy Joel needs to do this song live with this guy behind the piano! Comments, Protecta.

And adds FunkyFix, “Its hard to believe he’s 6!! Amazing, to think I was struggling with basic keyboard songs like Mary had a little lamb at 6. Amazing, he has so much talent…”


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