Healthy Living

12-Year-Old Pianist with Autism Blows Audience Away on Harry Connick Jr. Show

Tina Velazquez knew that her son, Jacob, was special very early on. When he was just 13 months old, he was not speaking; however, he had learned the entire alphabet by heart. By the age of 2, he had memorized all 50 states and the 7 continents. During this time, Jacob was also diagnosed with speech delay and a feeding disorder. He was mumbling instead of speaking, he could not tolerate loud noises or textures, he was constantly running around, and he insisted on following the same routines every day.

Jacob’s early start with great talent

As Jacob got older, his actions and behavior proved to become more challenging, but his mother also became more aware of her son’s capabilities. One day, Tina heard a song being played on her family’s piano that her husband had played the previous night. However, she knew that her husband was at work and to her surprise, it was her 4-year-old son Jacob! Tina and her husband then took the initiative to find Jacob a piano teacher. However, since a majority of schools did not work with children under the ages of 7, Jacob’s parents were having a difficult time finding him a piano teacher who would take him on.

After spending some time searching, they finally found a piano teacher, Jaffird Sierra, who agreed to work with Jacob. Rather quickly, Sierra became aware of Jacob’s gift, as he was learning up to 3 songs per week. She enrolled him in a music competition, where he performed Mozart’s ‘Minuet’ and took home the double platinum trophy. “It was so amazing to watch him. My son whom could never sit still could focus so intently on learning his songs on the piano. It seemed to be an outlet for him, helping him to express his feelings and emotions,” said his mother, Tina.

Investigating Jacob’s gift

After a couple of months of playing the piano, Tina’s husband convinced her to have their son evaluated. On December 19th, 2011 Jacob received a diagnosis of autism. Tina began to look at her son differently and she started to tiptoe around him, not wanting to disturb or upset him in any way. She also became depressed, picturing what Jacob would do when his parents would no longer be around to take care of him. “In my mind the bright future that I had once envisioned for my little boy had been snatched away by autism,” she said.

Jacob is not defined by his diagnosis

Then, one day while sitting and watching her son play the piano, Tina realized something. Jacob’s diagnosis did not define him as an individual. Nothing about her son had changed whatsoever. “This was a huge turning point for me because I decided that instead of focusing on Jacob's disability I should instead begin concentrating on his unlimited capabilities!” said Tina.

At the age of 5, Jacob was welcomed into the National Musicians Guild. At the age of 6, he recorded songs for his album, “Jacob”, which made its debut in 2014. The songs include well-known classical piano pieces with an upbeat electronic dance groove, as well as piano solos accompanied by a string quartet. Jacob also made two music videos for the album. At the age of 8, he performed with The Space Coast Symphony Orchestra.

Even Taylor Swift noticed!

In 2015, Jacob caught the attention of pop singer, Taylor Swift. After watching a video of him playing her songs on the piano, Swift reached out to Jacob via Twitter and wrote – “I HAVE to give you a hug for that beautiful piano medley you did! Please come to a show on my tour and say hi to me? My treat.” For Jacob, this was a dream come true. He was Swift’s number 1 fan and his inspiration to keep striving to be his best came from her. He happily accepted the offer. “Hopefully he’ll inspire other families that are touched by autism. Because you are diagnosed with autism, doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of great things,” said his mother, Tina.

The child prodigy even caught the attention of the media, including CNN, Good Morning America, The View, The Steve Harvey Show, Telemundo, and Headline News. He also performed the national anthem at the NBA’s Miami Heat Game against the Chicago Bulls, in support of Autism Awareness Night. The same night following his performance, he was asked what he would like others to know about autism. To this question, Jacob responded – “I would like them to know that just because you have autism doesn’t mean you are not smart.”

“Unique, capable, and cool”

Most recently, Jacob appeared on Harry Connick Jr.’s talk show to show off his piano skills and to promote Autism Awareness Month. He blew the audience away with his performance and he charmed them with his personality. When Connick Jr asked him about what autism meant to him, Jacob answered – “To me autism doesn’t mean we can’t be capable of great things. It does mean that we are unique, capable and cool.” That's right. He said, "Autism is cool." He also attended the Miami International Piano Academy at Nova Southeastern University, which is a summer program that is generally reserved solely for adults.

Jacob Velazquez has his own official website, which is run by his parents. It details his biography, information about his album, video clips of his TV appearances, photos, and more - He also has a YouTube channel that reflects his life as a child musician living with autism. Episodes are uploaded on a weekly basis -

As for what is next for Jacob, he is working on writing a children’s picture book, in hopes of inspiring other children living with autism. The 12-year-old also caught the eye of a production company and is being filmed for a documentary - “Becoming Beethoven” (working title). Jacob’s mother says that her son is a bright, loving and gifted little boy, but there is also so much more to him. “He loves playing drums, which he is self-taught. He also enjoys video games, riding his bike and listening to audio books. Everything Jacob does is done with passion and intensity,” she said.

Photo: HOLA! USA