Local autistic teen a virtuoso on the piano

June 1, 2010 3:29:00 PM PDT
When you hear autistic, you may think about what a child cannot do. But an amazing musician at Klein Collins High School in Spring will change your mind. He's a special needs student who can play nearly any song flawlessly. When you hear Nathan Pustka perform, you know you're in the presence of a musical genius. Even more remarkable than his vocal quality and piano performance is the fact that he does it all exclusively from auditory memory; no notes with lyrics, no sheet music.

Nathan has taught himself to sing and play just by listening to songs on his iPod. He figures out chords, and remembers the songs, even the lyrics, perfectly.

Nathan also has perfect pitch, a note-identifying talent that exists in one in every 10,000 people.

But there's something else about Nathan that makes his gift even more remarkable. He is autistic.

While he is unable to communicate many of his thoughts through speech, at the piano, he is in control of every note, every word, expressing himself perfectly through music.

"I've been teaching special needs kids for 15 years, and Nathan is the most amazing student that I've run across in all those years," Klein Collins High School special education teacher Johnny Dement said.

But there is even more to Nathan's story. His parents are both deaf.

"I am not teaching him how to play," said his father, Stephen Pustka.

"I'm very surprised," said Aida Villareal, Nathan's mother. "I'm very shocked."

They are stunned that their special needs child could teach himself to do all this with absolutely no input from them. They only wish they could hear him.

"I cry," Villareal said. "I can't hear."

The family hopes Nathan's miraculous ability will open doors for other people with austism.

"It makes me feel wonderful," Stephen Pustka said.

"Now I can see he can do something in this world," his sister, Vickie Pustka, said. "We've always been like, where's Nathan going to go in life? What can he do? And he can play the piano. That's perfect."

Nathan's teacher said he has encountered other kids with special abilities, like math savants, but he said he has never had a musical genius.

Nathan's perfect pitch also allows him to imitate and match the vocal quality of any sound he hears, including people's voices and even the school bell.


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