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Tristen Miller loves to sing. The high school senior, who attends
a performing arts high school in Los Angeles, has performed at Carnegie Hall
and the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, at the Rose Bowl and Anaheim Stadium
and shared a stage with Ziggy Marley. Tristen, who has ASD (Autism Spectrum
Disorder), is passionate not only about singing, but about sharing her talent
with those around her.
“I love music so much,” she says. “Being on stage and performing
makes me happy. It makes me happy to see the smiles on peoples faces.”
Tristen got her first taste of performing in front of an
audience with the Miracle Project, a theater and
arts program started by Elaine Hall, a children’s acting coach for TV and film.
Elaine developed the program after her own son was diagnosed with autism and
found that traditional therapies were falling short. Her methods of teaching
became the basis for the Miracle Project, and in 2008, Elaine and her students
were the subjects of the Emmy-winning HBO documentary, "AUTISM:The Musical."
In an interview for mom.me, Elaine told me that one of her goals
is to use performing as a way to shatter the stereotypes of people with autism.
“There is a myth that individuals with autism do not show emotion, warmth or
desire friendships. At The Miracle Project, we clearly demonstrate the
opposite,” she stressed.
I asked her about the impact performing has on the students she
works with, as well as on the audience. “The most important thing that the kids
who have autism can take away from the productions and performances is a sense
of accomplishment, self confidence and joy,” she said. “Being in a production
is working together as a group, sharing positive emotional experiences and
having to be responsible for others as well as yourself.”
“The audience can see that anything is possible—to see the
abilities within the disabilities of every individual; and to live in
acceptance and appreciation rather than judgment.”
Tristen is still involved with the Miracle Project, and credits
its founder with nurturing her as an artist. “Elaine helps me connect to the
meaning of songs when I sing, when acting, connecting to my character,” she
says. “I learn how to have a positive relationship with my friends and have fun
and I am more confident.”
We were told she would not be able to communicate appropriately, and watching her sing with her fellow students gives us such a feeling of gratitude.
Elaine says she recognized Tristen’s talent early on, and watched
her grow as she worked with her through the Miracle Project. “Tristen was given
a gift,” she said. “I've known her since she was a little girl—this tiny,
beautiful little girl with this magnificent voice. Over the years I've seen her
connect with her feelings and emotions in her singing as well as reach out and
become much more social.”
being told initially that their daughter would have problems communicating with
others, Tristen’s parents Mark Miller and Maria Bonacci say performing has been
key in helping her develop socially as well as academically. “There are no
words to describe the pride we feel when we hear Tristen sing,” Maria says. “We
were told she would not be able to communicate appropriately, and watching her sing
with her fellow students gives us such a feeling of gratitude.”
“Tristen's vocal talents helped her bridge her educational
setting from a special needs school into typical high school in the 9th grade,”
Mark adds. “Her vocal skills have given her the confidence that she needs to
interact socially with neurotypical peers.”
Next up for Tristen: In a few weeks she will be performing
before a few thousand people at Anaheim Stadium to open the Walk Now For Autism
Speaks. After graduating in June she hopes to attend UCLA to continue her music
studies, and she’ll continue to work hard towards her dream—to one day sing
at the famed Paris Opera House.
She even has some advice for her peers who also sing, dance or
act and might want to pursue a future in performing. “Relax, have fun, be
flexible and love what you're doing,” she says. “Dreams do come true.”