Jack Robbins, 8, normally speaks in one-word utterances, and only to express immediate needs, such as “water,” “snack,” or “go.” If one says a phrase to him, he can repeat it back, but he never spontaneously strung words together…until he heard Katy Perry’s “Roar.”
Jack is a nonverbal autistic boy. His language skills have developed very slowly, and he shows very little emotion. However, repeating back phrases spoken by others and singing are often more doable than speaking for nonverbal autistic kids such as Jack. Repeating and singing use different, but related, neural pathways than speaking, so they can often serve as training wheels for normal speech.
Jack Robbins would often make sing-songy noises along to music. His parents and little brother are all music lovers, and music often plays in their home. Apparently Katy Perry is included in that mix, and Jack began to sing her hit “Roar,” spontaneously with no background music. This was the first time that Jack had uttered phrases without any prompting.
“You can hear me roar,” he sings.
Jack’s mother, Carla Robbins, is audible in the video, and she is clearly thrilled to hear her son sing.
“That’s great Jack,” she gasps. “You sing it very well.”
Jack is clearly not fully verbal all of a sudden, but this is a big step for him. Jack’s story shows the therapeutic power of music as it relates to autism. If Jack’s story made you curious, I highly recommend the work of Oliver Sacks, who has studied autism (see “An Anthropologist on Mars”) and music’s effect on the brain (try “Musicophilia”).