Music has been a bridge for me to show who I really am to others. You can’t hear autism in music. Sound, melody, and rhythm are immune to disabilities.
My name is Breyton Croom. I am 24 years old from Morristown, New Jersey, and I am autistic with a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS.
When I was initially diagnosed, the neurologist informed my parents that I probably would never be independent, have limited cognitive abilities, and very little social skills. However, they did not accept this was my future and encouraged me to succeed. I had to work twice as hard as my fellow peers in school and it was difficult to maintain friendships due to my social issues.
I was bullied and teased and faced many setbacks while growing up, eventually resulting in nearly getting expelled from college during my freshman year. This led to a suicide attempt, a brief hospital stay, and a lot of reflection. With God’s grace, I now have a Master’s of Science degree in accounting and I am working as a tax associate at one of the largest accounting firms in the world. One of the biggest factors that helped me deal with my challenges, struggles, and the obstacles I faced throughout my life was music.
From the time that I was an infant, music and I have had a very good relationship. As a child, my favorite thing to watch was the Muppets sing along videos, especially their version of the song Kokomo. My parents told me that whenever I was crying or upset, as soon as that song started to play, I instantly calmed down. My parents didn’t know why that song worked compared to other songs, but I believe that song was a way for me to escape. I guess it told me, even back then, that music was what I needed to be calm, cool, and collected; that the constant rhythm meant everything was consistent, steady, and going to be all right.
As I mentioned earlier, school was very challenging for me, both academically and socially. I was placed in special education for most of elementary school, in which I was separated from most of my classmates. English was my hardest subject because I had difficulty reading and writing. I also had problems communicating, handling my emotions, and recognizing social cues. I did not attend a lot of parties outside of school and I was often excluded from sitting with classmates in the lunchroom.
I remember crying in school and at home due to all the things I went through. Fortunately, I always had music to get me through the difficult times. Whenever I was feeling upset, angry, or stressed, music was there to calm me down. It was a way for me to escape reality and enter a world of rejuvenation and peace. Whether it was listening to Bow Wow, Usher, NSYNC, or Earth, Wind & Fire, music was there to alleviate any anxiety or struggle that I was facing. Music did not judge me.
Music also helped me become more expressive and socially adept. My favorite music genres to listen to were hip-hop and R&B. As I was listening to the melody of the songs and the words that followed, I memorized the words and began to sing along to the artist. Through this practice, I learned how to sing and rap. Eventually, I developed my own preference of rapping and learned where my vocal range is. When the music was really appealing to me, I would often dance to the music. I’ve always wanted to perform in front of people and showcase my musical talent, even creating my first music video with my cousins and my sister when I was 9 years old. This led me to participating in a number of school plays and productions. Music played a huge role in my early childhood and it really provided me an outlet to show my fun and creative side.
When I was in fourth grade, I took my love for music a step further and started to learn how to play music. I started on the clarinet and played in the school band. During my rehearsals with the band and the lessons I had with the music teacher, I spent time with other classmates, which allowed me to make new friendships and to strengthen current ones. I enjoyed the concerts that the school band would perform for the students and parents; it was a good feeling to receive acknowledgement from my parents and teachers of my newfound talent. I continued playing in middle school, high school, and college with several school bands, jazz bands, and pit orchestras and I have earned several awards for my musical talents which also include arranging and conducting. Music has been a bridge for me to show who I really am to others. You can’t hear autism in music. Sound, melody, and rhythm are immune to disabilities. Maybe that’s why I have always been drawn to it.
Currently, I am a solo musician going by the name B. Able. I’m an instrumentalist, rapper, and singer. I play three instruments: the tenor saxophone, the soprano saxophone, and the bass clarinet, and perform at Open Mics in Morristown and the Best of Essex competition in Montclair, New Jersey. When I am not performing, I’m either practicing my instruments at home or in a recording studio working on a song. I’m using my musical experience to make new friends and to strengthen relationships wherever I go. My challenges with autism are still with my every day, and I still get down sometimes, but music remains my constant companion.
I don’t know where my life would be without music, but I do know that it would not be as exciting, energetic and fresh as it is today. I had no idea that music would take me as far as it has so far, and I cannot wait to see where it will take me next.
As part of Autism Awareness Month, I created an official music video for my song, The Definition. It’s about my life with autism and how I overcame my challenges, and how others can too. The message that I want to spread is this: “Don’t let anything or anyone define who you are and what you can do.”