The Mysterious Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Abilities

By Linda Marsa
Linda Marsa
Linda Marsa
January 15, 2016 Updated: January 31, 2016

This young man was born blind, due to a congenital condition called septo-optic dysplasia. He had serious cognitive disabilities as a child, and severe symptoms of autism: Even the faintest noises would make him scream, and he was so sensitive to touch that he kept his hands balled up in fists. His doctors predicted he would never walk or talk.

When he was 2, Lewis-Clack’s father gave him a piano keyboard. It became his gateway to the outside world. 

Lewis-Clack has perfect pitch, a phenomenon that occurs in about 1 in 10,000 people: He can identify a musical note immediately, even when he hears it completely out of context. Although he cannot see and cannot read music, he only needs to hear most songs once to play them back perfectly. 

Lewis-Clack’s gifts transformed him from a timid toddler into a celebrated performer who plays to packed houses at concert halls throughout the world. 

After the Chopin, I ask him if he would play another tune. “No,” he responds, firmly but not in an unfriendly way. I ask his mother if it would be okay to ask if I can give him a hug as a way of expressing my appreciation for the mini-concert, and she smiles and nods vigorously. Lewis-Clack rises from the piano bench, arms open wide, and gently envelops me, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

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