Drummer with Autism Finds Joy and Community Through Music
When Andres Ortiz is on stage playing the drums, audiences wouldn’t know he has autism. Behind a drums he’s just another player in a band, swaying to whatever song the band is playing – ideally, for Ortiz, The Beatles.
Ortiz, 28, of Bridgewater, has been performing for 16 years, mostly as a member of the band born out of the School of Rock music program in Chatham and Montclair. Ortiz says the drums gave him a connection to the neurotypical community – those without autism or other developmental and cognitive disabilities.
Ortiz started playing drums as a teenager, taking lessons, and playing solo. After a few years, his teacher said that if Ortiz wanted to take his skills to the next level, he would have to play with a band.
“’Well, how am I ever going to find a bunch of people to play with?’” Ortiz’s mother, Shawn Ortiz, remembers asking her teacher. “He said, ‘We just have to throw him into the neurotypical world.'”
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Ortiz joined the School of Rock and has been playing in bands ever since. He recently shared his experience as a musician while writing about it for The TAZ Times.
This is a photojournalism course project run by The Achievement Zone and crossing the Arc of Monmouth at Tinton Falls, a non-profit organization that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In his first track, released earlier this year, Ortiz posed the question, “Am I an autistic drummer or am I someone with autism who plays the drums?”
“When I play the drums, I don’t sound like someone with autism,” Ortiz replied. “I just want people to see me as an ordinary musician, not as someone with autism. I will tell them that I am autistic and that will be basically it.
His favorite song to play is “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, and although he enjoys playing rock and country music the most, he has played a wide range of genres throughout the years at the School’s shows. of Rock.
Ortiz said that while playing music has helped him connect with the neurotypical community, autism also makes him a better musician.
“I don’t mind playing over and over again,” he said. Autism helps him to practice songs to perfection, as well as to understand the details of music that others sometimes forget.
And while one-on-one interactions can be stressful, Ortiz said he’s never nervous before shows. Unlike some of his neurotypical peers, Ortiz is happy to play for a crowd. “The drums and the stage are my comfort zones,” he said.
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It is believed that many famous musicians suffered from autism or other developmental disabilities, including Mozart. Ortiz believes members of the neurotypical community can do more to support musicians like him as well as people with autism in general.
“I wish they’d try to listen more and try to have a better understanding and be more receptive,” Ortiz said. “As a musician, try to accept us and let us have more opportunities.”
Ortiz wrote a follow-up article published on April 16 about the friendships he made through music.
“There are many ways to communicate and music is a perfect language for me,” he wrote.
Ortiz was happy to receive the positive feedback.
Michael DeCastro, who teaches the class and works as a peer mentor at Arc of Monmouth, called the class “awesome.”
“When I saw Andres’s article, I said, ‘You know, this is beyond our classroom project here. It’s something that might interest other people, ”DeCastro said.
Ultimately, Ortiz hopes to tour as a musician and work with other neurotypical children and young adults through music.
“I have great advice for people with autism and special needs in general,” he said. “If they tell you it’s impossible, keep trying… Put the music center stage and the handicap in a minor chord.”