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Boy with autism excels as musical prodigy

November 26, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Thanks to music, a teen with severe disabilities discovered an extraordinary talent. And with it, what could have been a very limited life has enlightened thousands.Cathleen Lewis was told her son might never walk or talk. Rex was born blind and mentally impaired 14 years ago. He developed autistic symptoms. But at age 2, he was given a piano.

Rex cannot read music. He can play exactly what he hears. He is one of the world's very few musical savants. Rex learned all of "Rhapsody in Blue" in five hours. He has music teachers and hours of practice, and his technique, his improvisation, are growing more sophisticated every day.

Rex performed at Classical Underground earlier this month, a progressive venue. He and his mother travel frequently for his performances. She speaks, delivering a message of inspiration.

"Rex is my greatest teacher. He's taught me to stop just chasing after 'things,'" said Cathleen.

Cathleen walked away from a career in finance and now teaches visually impaired children when she and Rex aren't on the road.

"He gets such joy when he plays for people. You should see his face. It's like plugging him into an electrical socket. He lights up like he's been given a shot of adrenaline," said Cathleen.

And while audiences are clearly moved by this boy whose world revolves around music, Cathleen has written a book describing her life with Rex and the music that transformed them.

"There's no giving up, I'm on a fascinating ride. It's not just not giving up. It's 'enjoy the ride,'" said Cathleen.

Rex doesn't carry on a conversation, but he has opinions. When asked whose music he likes best, he answers, "Mine."

He goes to public high school where he receives special education. And just recently, a breakthrough.

"Out of the blue, last year, he had his hand on a page of Braille, and all of a sudden, he was reading Braille. Six years later," said Cathleen.

With his heightened sensitivity, Rex couldn't touch Braille, until now. And he is broadening his musical abilities by learning how to sing.

Music opened Rex's curiosity about the world. There is no telling where it might take him.


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