Ron Sandison interviews child musical prodigy Jacob Velazquez
For those who missed Jacob Velazquez on America’s Got Talent here’s a video of his appearance:
I had the opportunity to ask Jacob a few questions about his autism and his music.
1. How did PDD-NOS effect you as a child and at what age were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS when I was four years old. I was first diagnosed with GERD at about one month old after being taken to the emergency room in an ambulance when my parents found me struggling to breathe. They found out I was choking on my own reflux. Then when I was about 18 months I was diagnosed with a feeding disorder. I couldn’t chew or swallow solid foods. I didn’t chew my first food until almost 3 years old (1/2 a cheerio). When I was a baby I babbled but one day just stopped. At two years old I was diagnosed with speech delay. Around this time I started showing signs of repetitive behaviors such as needing to follow certain routines wanting lights to always be on even during the day. I was obsessed with fans. While other kids were playing at parties, I would run from room to room to watch the ceiling fans spin. My favorite place was Home Depot (fan department). I was also a runner. I ran away from my parents into the street a few times.
2. What were some therapies you had as a child?
I had feeding therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and I went to an ABA based pre-school for children with autism.
3. What sparked your interest in music?
I used to sit and watch my dad play piano. One day my mom heard the song that my dad was playing the night before but my dad was at work. When she came to see who it was, she found my 3 year old self at the piano. I started piano lessons when I was 4 and then when I was about 8 or 9 I got a toy drum set. I started watching Casey Cooper (CAS3Y COOP3R) drum videos on YouTube. During quarantine I learned guitar, cello, sax, bass, ukulele and harmonica.
4. How did your parents support and foster your music talents?
My parents had a hard time finding a music teacher when I was younger. Most teachers said to come back when I was 7, but they finally found one that was a little bit far away and would drive me 2 days a week. When they saw my interest in drums they got me a drum-set for Christmas. My dad and I jam together all the time now. My mom also applied for a scholarship for me last year which helped pay for some of my new instruments.
5. What are some ways your parents’ helped you develop social skills?
My parents took me on playdates and mommy and me classes when I was younger. My mom signed me up for a music class and then a music camp when I got older. They also searched for a long time to find the perfect school for me.
6. As a child what were your favorite bands and music instruments to play?
The only instrument I played was piano until I was around 8 or 9 and I played mostly classical music because that’s what my teachers taught me. I liked listening to Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. Once I started playing drums it opened me up to a whole new realm. I now listen to pop, rock, blues, classic rock and metal.
7. What are some nicknames you have due to your music talent?
When I was younger I was called “Baby Beethoven” and “Mini Mozart”. Howie Mandel call me “Boy-thoven”. I never really liked these names because I always took things literally. I didn’t understand why I was being called “baby” at 5 years and I also didn’t understand why they didn’t just call me by my name.
8. How has music helped you with your autism?
Music has not only helped me with my autism but everything in general. It has always been an outlet for me and helps me escape reality. When I’m playing music I feel like I’m invincible.
9. How has autism made you a better musician?
I think it has something to do with the hyperfocus I have to work really hard on the things that interest me.
10. What advice would you share with teens who struggle with making friends?
I personally do homeschool because I felt overwhelmed in the classroom. I would probably advise someone to find a group with other kids that have the same interests as you. It’s easier when you have something in common to talk about.
11. Share a humorous story from your life.
I played my first solo concert when I was 8 years old. I was wearing a necklace with a cross (inspired by Bruno Mars). During one of the songs, part of the cross fell off. I spent the rest of the song looking all around trying to find the pendant, while still playing. After the show the director asked me what I was looking for and I told him what happened. This was the first night of two shows. So the 2nd night, before going onstage he told me “no matter what happens just keep going, even if your shirt falls off!” I thought that was kind of ridiculous. How could my shirt fall off? When I told my family they explained that he was being metaphorical. We still laugh about it.
12. What motivated you to audition for America’s Got Talent?
I’ve always loved the show, it’s my favorite thing that I’ve ever seen on television. For many years I was contacted by producers asking me to try out. I always did but I was never chosen. In December of 2019 AGT came to Miami and a producer sent me a front of the line pass so I didn’t have to wait in line with the thousands of others there to tryout. I (and about 20 other people) auditioned for a producer one at a time. Afterwards they said everyone could leave except for me. The producer told me “congratulations you’ve made it through the first round!” I was then taken to another room to audition in front of the Executive Producers of the show. They said they would call me if I made it and about one month later I got the call to come to California to be on the show.
13. What are some of your goals in life?
I would love to make a living writing and performing my music. I have a dream of performing onstage and all of the artists who inspire me to do what I do are in the audience.
14. Who are some people that inspire you and why?
My dad is the reason I started playing piano. COOP3R DRUMM3R is the reason I started playing drums. Stevie T is the reason I started playing guitar. Davie504 is the reason I started playing bass. Kevin Olusola is the reason I began cello. Billy Joel’s song “Piano Man” is the reason I wanted to learn harmonica. Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa are who made me realize I wanted to perform on stage and taught me to stay true to myself. I’m also very inspired by Tyler Larson (Music is Win), Jared Dines, and Rob Scallon.
More about Jacob Velazquez
Jacob is a twelve-year-old musician with PDD-NOS (this is similar to Asperger Syndrome but with a speech delay). He began taking piano lessons at the tender age of four, and by age five caught the attention of media outlets like Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. Jacob has also performed on “The Steve Harvey Show” and “The Harry Show”.
He made his debut with The Space Coast Symphony Orchestra at just eight years old and has since performed with The Hallandale Symphonic Orchestra, The Sugar Pops Orchestra, and the Imperial Symphony Orchestra. After teaching himself to play drums by watching YouTube, Jacob was invited to perform on stage with Harry Connick Jr live in concert. Jacob’s audience for America’s Got Talent received over 140 million views. Thanks to Dr. Brian Udell, and his administration of bio-medical treatment, along with many therapies and interventions, Jacob has made many advances since his initial diagnosis.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum will be released on May 25, 2021.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.