Reflection: Nathan Miller

Our Reflection article series highlights an individual's experiences of the arts as it contributes to health, healing and wellness

By Nathan Miller

Curated by Zara Contractor (adapted from Autism Speaks)

Nathan Miller is a remarkable 17 year old young man from Summerville, SC. Nathan was born in San Angelo, TX in 1997.  He was diagnosed with autism in 2001, but is, in his own words, "blessed with the ability to play music, and to communicate."  These are both things his older brother Marcus, age 25, who also has autism, cannot do.  Marcus has never been able to speak, and is on the profoundly challenged end of the autism spectrum. Despite Marcus's inability to speak, his favorite activity, second only to eating, is listening to music. Where words fail, Music Speaks to Marcus. Nathan loves to express himself through the guitar and ukelele, and is driven to use his gift to speak for, and to, those who cannot, and to inspire to action those who can. To learn more or to order his cd, visit www.musicspeaksproject.com.

When Words Fail, "Music Speaks"

I'm Nathan Miller, and I'm 17 years old. I'm on the higher end of the autism spectrum and I have an older brother, Marcus Miller, who is on the lower end of the spectrum. In many ways, we're more different than we are alike, but we have one very big thing in common. We both love music.

I was diagnosed with autism when I was 3 years old. During that time, I used to love ceiling fans, I would draw them, and I always wanted to visit them when we were in the store. Over the years, my interest changed. My Dad plays guitar nearly every day, and he takes me to concerts often. I grew to love music, and I wanted to make music myself.

Marcus will be 26 next month, and he has never spoken a word. He's very quiet, he likes to rock, and his favorite pastimes are eating and listening to music. His favorite movie is Shrek, and I think the music is his favorite part. Like me, his taste of music is very wide. He likes everything from Michael Jackson to praise music, country and even celtic music. When he still lived at home with us, he would listen to music all night long in his room. And now when he comes over to visit, he listens to music for at least half of the time he is here.

I play some classical guitar, and mostly ukulele. My favorite ukulele player is a guy from Hawaii named Jake Shimabukuro. I got to meet him and even play for him last year. A little over a year ago, my Dad and I started a project for Autism Speaks. The name of the project is called Music Speaks. One of my challenges is communication. I find it difficult to express myself in words, but through music, I can express myself freely.

In our project, we try to communicate the power of music as a form of communication that crosses so many barriers. Last year, I had a chance to play ukulele in Heidelberg and Weil der Stadt, Germany. The people I played for may not have been able to understand the words we speak, but they easily understood the notes I played. The same is true for people with mental disabilities like my brother, or the lady we played for at Christmas, who had Alzheimer's.

We released a compilation CD last summer called "Where Words Fail, Music Speaks," and all of the proceeds go to support Autism Speaks. It features songs from me and Dad, and some of our heroes and friends. It includes guitar greats like Doyle Dykes, and Phil Keaggy, and I have a duet with Grammy Winning Guitarist, John Knowles.

My brother Marcus may not be able to speak, but I like to think that I can speak for him, by communicating our mutual love for the very special language of music.