I’ve got the mu­sic in me: How song­bird Sam found her voice

Autism suf­ferer de­fies doc­tors by learn­ing to sing... then talk

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - NEWS - By Al­ice Hinds [email protected]

The philoso­pher Friedrich Ni­et­zsche once said that “with­out mu­sic, life would be a mis­take.”

For Sam Ruder­ham, life with­out mu­sic would be un­recog­nis­able.

Di­ag­nosed with autism when she was a baby, Sam’s par­ents were told she would never be able to com­mu­ni­cate ver­bally and they should start learn­ing sign lan­guage.

But mum Shaz, 55, knew Sam would find her voice and she did – through mu­sic – and, not only can Sam talk, the whole world knows she can sing.

Shaz said: “Sam was di­ag­nosed as be­ing non- ver­bal autis­tic when she was just a baby. Then when she was two years old she was of­fi­cially di­ag­nosed as hav­ing a per­va­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion dis­or­der.”

Shaz, who lives in Ed­in­burgh with her chil­dren and hus­band, Ge­off, said: “At two years old she hadn’t shown any signs of want­ing to talk, but she could cer­tainly scream so we knew there was noth­ing wrong with her vo­cal chords. So, we de­cided not to use sign lan­guage, and just let na­ture take its course.

“She would hum to mu­sic and her brother, Andie, who is also autis­tic, would sing with her – try­ing to get them to say ‘good­night’ or ‘I love you’ wouldn’t hap­pen, but belt­ing out a song? Not a prob­lem.”

When Sam was three, her par­ents heard her voice prop­erly for the first time when all of a sud­den she started singing Tina Turner’s clas­sic hit On Silent Wings.

From there, singing be­came Sam’s main form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the world, and mu­sic has be­come a huge part of every­day life for the whole fam­ily.

Sam, 24, shares videos of her per­for­mances on­line, has grown a pop­u­lar Youtube chan­nel, and also be­come an am­bas­sador for Ed­in­burgh-based Skoog­mu­sic, which makes elec­tronic mu­sic de­vices that can be played by any­one.

The com­pany was founded in 2009 by two doc­tors from the Uni­ver­sity of Ed­in­burgh dur­ing an ed­u­ca­tional re­search project, and the Skoog and Sk­witch de­vices they make have been de­signed to en­cour­age chil­dren with phys­i­cal or learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties to play, per­form and cre­ate their own mu­si­cal sounds at home, in the class­room or in the stu­dio.

Singing has changed Sam’s life, and her mum ad­mits she can’t imag­ine life with­out mu­sic.

She said: “When she could first sing prop­erly she was about two or three years old, and we hadn’t heard her voice prop­erly un­til then. We have a very early record­ing of her singing. You might not un­der­stand all the words, but she’s singing it.

“The singing then be­came more and more prom­i­nent, with Sam and her brother har­mon­is­ing or play­ing the key­board to­gether. It was re­ally amaz­ing to see.

“It wasn’t un­til she was about eight that she started ac­tu­ally talk­ing to other peo­ple. But un­til then, out­side of mu­sic, there was noth­ing.”

Shaz has also seen Sam grow her tal­ent with the Skoog in­stru­ment, and be­lieves chil­dren of all abil­i­ties can com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fec­tively when they are given the chance to ex­plore some­thing they love. She said: “It has taken Sam a lit­tle fur­ther on her jour­ney.”

And it’s that jour­ney that Shaz hopes will en­cour­age more peo­ple with an autism di­ag­no­sis to live life to the full. She added: “When peo­ple find Sam’s mu­sic chan­nels and they read a lit­tle bit about her, it starts to give them hope. We’ve had peo­ple con­tact us from Amer­ica to ask ad­vice.

“Peo­ple can see Sam and say to their kids, ‘ See that girl is like you – she’s not per­fect but she doesn’t care and she loves what she’s do­ing’.

“The la­bel of autism might give you an ideal of some of the dif­fi­cul­ties and hur­dles you will have to face, but it doesn’t de­fine the chil­dren. Autism is a jour­ney, not a desti­na­tion.”

Pic­ture Chris Austin

Sam Ruder­ham with her Skoog de­signed to en­cour­age dis­abled chil­dren to cre­ate their own mu­sic

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