Of the many qualities autistic people have, one truly amazing talent is their musical ability. They are the happiest when singing and playing with sound. Many autistic people are born with drum rhythms in their heart, with music flowing through them all their life. Fifteen-year-old multi-instrumentalist Athul Fathah is an example of this. Athul, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram, has received the distinct honour of being the world’s youngest autistic instrumentalist. His recent performance at Krithi Festival proved that he is truly deserving of this title.
Athul, a class VIII student at Pattom St. Mary’s HSS, showed his interest from a young age. He was born with Autism Spectrum Disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. But that did not stop him from becoming a multi-instrumentalist, something many cannot even dream of.
At the age of 10, he started learning drums. Now, at the age of 15, he plays drums, keyboard, tabla and chenda. In February, Incredible Book of Records identified him as the world’s youngest autistic instrumentalist and honoured him with the record and certificate.
Athul’s mother Sabitha, who works at the PSC office in Thiruvananthapuram, says her son was interested in percussion and music at a young age and they could see Athul tap on cars and other objects to make sounds. “At a very young age, he used to tap on doors, the roof of cars and other places and make rhythmic sounds. At first we didn’t give much importance but later on we found out that he is really happy and he has interest in rhythmic sounds,” she says. The moment they discovered his interest, they started searching for percussion classes and to everyone’s wonder, he started playing the instrument soon. His love for instruments never stopped and that is how they started taking him for classes.
It is scientifically proven that children with autism elevate their self-confidence through musical experiences. When we feel comfortable with an experience and have the freedom to direct our own learning, we become more interested in it and more successful.
“Athul is a good singer too. At school, he was asked to sing a song and play the drums, which he did well. It was a proud moment for us that even with his own limitations, he is achieving what he loves,” shares Sabitha. She says though he used to go for programmes, society still does not accept differently abled people.
“He has a speech impediment and fails to communicate with others, like everyone else does. So there should be someone with him always, whether it is us or friends or teachers at school. Sometimes, it is hard for us to teach him something new as autistic children cannot take the initiative or think like others. Even if they do, there will be problems. They have difficulty with figurative speech and they tend to not see the forest. They see the trees. They tend to copy everything from others. That is how they learn,” she explains.
But Sabitha and her husband Fathahudeen, who is an advocate, are very happy that Athul is a very compassionate and loving child. Music is within him and these proud parents are in full support of nurturing it. “Athul is a part of the great and diverse human family. Music is a universal language we all understand and Athul is great at it. Performing at an event like Krithi proves that there is nothing far beyond his reach. He is a musical genius. We would love to hear from him more,” adds Sabitha.