Music gives autistic teen a voice

By Marc Strauss

April 11, 2012 Updated Apr 11, 2012 at 6:53 PM CDT

MINIER, Ill. --  Jon Miskulin has autism but you'd never know it watching the 19 year-old from Bloomington interact Wednesday with students at Olympia West Elementary School.

Miskulin performed songs on his guitar and talked to the kids about something they all have in common.  They all have something that makes them different.

"Everybody has super powers.  My super power is that I can hear any song on guitar and play it," said Miskulin.

Ask Jon and he'll tell you his guitar has super powers too.

"I used to be a mute before I played guitar.  As soon as I started playing guitar I could speak again.  And that was because of my select mutism," Miskulin said.  "I was bullied.  I was beat up everyday in junior high, so that's what really caused my insecurities."

Miskulin wants the kids at Olympia West to know that just because a classmate might be different, it doesn't mean they should be treated differently.

He recalled an experience he had in grade school when the parents of a close friend forbid the child from playing with Jon after learning he was autistic.

The principal at Olympia West thinks Miskulin's message hits home.

"I think all of our students, at some point, have had hurt feelings or have felt excluded in some way, so I think they have something to relate to," said Dr. Nicole Rummel.

Olympia West second grader Neil Alford explained what he learned from Miskulin's appearance.

"Its not right to make fun of (people with autism) and you should never, ever not play with someone who has autism.  They're just different, they're not from another planet or anything," said Alford.

These days Miskulin channels his super powers to raise autism awareness and promote the Heroes Embracing Autistic Lives foundation in Bloomington-Normal.

After listening to him speak students split into groups to learn more about what its like to be autistic.

"So that they can be a better classmate and a better friend to our students with autism," said Rummel.

Jon Miskulin's appearance is only one of the activities Olympia West Elementary is holding during Autism Awareness Month.  The school is also selling bracelets and holding contests with the proceeds going to the Hope School in Springfield and the Autism Society of Illinois.

On Friday Olympia West will host a community walk to promote autism awareness.