Autistic 11-year-old discovers innate talent

Stephanie Bertholdo


Jakob Crowe may not have spoken his first word until he was 3 years old, but music certainly speaks to him.

Jakob is an 11-year-old musician who is making his mark at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas as the youngest student to join the school’s jazz band and wind ensemble. He and his family live in Agoura Hills.

Diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, Jakob spent many years learning to talk.

While Jakob struggles with nuanced communication, he has no problem expressing an emotional range in his music, says his mother, Bonnie Weinstein-Crowe.

On June 5, Jakob and his band mates performed at Disneyland. He was also chosen as a finalist for A.E. Wright’s Director’s Award for his performance of Eugene Bozza’s “Aria.”

Weinstein-Crowe says that there are many misconceptions about what children with autism can and cannot achieve.

“My son did not talk until he was 3 years old, and then he barely spoke sentences for several years,” Weinstein-Crowe said. “When he was little, in fact, they told me they didn’t think he’d ever talk and would never have a normal life. Jakob has worked so hard over the years . . . and now he’s thriving at A.E. Wright.”

Jakob attends all mainstream classes at the school, is a straight-A student, made the honor roll this year and will participate in the gifted program next year, Weinstein-Crowe said.

“I credit not only my son’s determination and hard work but also music and the kindness and compassion of his band mates as the reason he’s thriving so.”

Weinstein-Crowe says that Jakob communicates best when spoken to in very concrete terms rather than being addressed by open-ended questions.

Ashley Suhr, the music teacher at the school, said she was amazed at the maturity and emotional depth of the solo Jakob performed.

“Jakob is a talented musician who is not afraid to take risks,” Suhr said. “He is a great improviser and loves playing solos in jazz band.” She added that Jakob is a focused musician “although he also loves to tell a good joke or share a funny story.”

Jakob said that music makes him “feel good.”

“I like to play music,” Jakob said. “I’m good, they tell me.”

Jakob’s musical talent started to become apparent at the age of 7 when he taught himself to read music. He started taking alto sax lessons two years ago.

Weinstein-Crowe said that the best way to raise awareness about autism and give parents hope that a child diagnosed with autism can thrive was to share her son’s story.

“The music thing has been a total godsend,” Weinstein-Crowe said. “Things were so hard before. . . . Jakob didn’t have friends. He was very quiet.” Jakob’s band mates, she said, are very protective of him and give him support during class and practice.

“They all pat him on the back and say ‘good job,’” WeinsteinCrowe said.

Children with autism often hyper-focus on different things, she said. The focus on music has been a great outlet for Jakob, but the perfectionism autistic children strive for can sometimes go too far.

“It can make life hard,” she said. “Most parents pressure their children (to focus) and do well. I have to do the opposite. Part of our job as a family is to tell (Jakob) it is okay to make a mistake. The stress level is high for autistic kids.”

To help reduce stress, Jakob has a therapy dog, a Shih Tzu named Cuddles that has a calming effect on him and provides him with a safe way to show affection. WeinsteinCrowe says that children with autism don’t have to worry about social rules with dogs.

Another misconception that Weinstein-Crowe wants to dispel is that autistic children don’t like to be touched. She said that while Jakob’s autism presents itself through social challenges, he has no issue with being hugged and is a “very smiley” child.

Besides his love of music Jakob participates on the Special Olympics golf team.

“So many parents out there will be getting the same diagnosis and grim words that I received back when Jakob was little,” WeinsteinCrowe said. “I just want others to know not to limit your child.

“He worked hard his whole life to fit in and to control the many challenges he’s had because he’s on the (autism) spectrum. It’s the kindness and understanding of others, that help him most in his quest to thrive and fit in.”


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