Ben Journey was 2 years old when he was diagnosed with autism, a developmental disability that affects the brain’s normal function.
His parents were faced with the fact Ben likely would never be able to communicate or interact with others as a result of the condition that seriously hampers one’s ability to understand what he or she sees, hears and otherwise senses.
Despite his disability, Ben — now 22 — has managed to accomplish something many people are unable to regardless of their developmental level: play not one, but multiple musical instruments.
Along with learning his way around the guitar, both acoustic and electric, he has become a proficient pianist and keyboardist who is now trying to master the banjo.
“And he basically taught himself to play,” his mother Donna said recently of how Ben accomplished this with the help of a how-to video given by a friend.
“He can’t tie his shoes, but he can tear up a guitar, piano and keyboard,” she said.
To perform for walk
Ben Journey’s talents will be on display during the sixth-annual Autism Walk of Surry County scheduled for April 29 at Riverside Park in Mount Airy.
In 2016, more than 2,000 people attended the event staged by the Surry Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina, with an even larger turnout eyed this year.
In addition to awareness about the condition, the 2016 walk generated nearly $45,000 that has stayed entirely in the county, with the funds used mainly to provide resources and support in local schools to better deal with autistic students.
Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disorder in the country, with experts saying that a child is diagnosed, on average, every 20 minutes. The condition mostly affects boys, and more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and cancer combined. No two people are affected the same way.
However, Ben Journey embodies unique talents that those stricken with autism sometimes possess, which his mother believes basically can be a result of tapping into something they are interested in and letting their enthusiasm take over from there.
In his case, Ben has become a key member of his family’s singing group, The Journeys, which for about the past five years has performed at churches and other venues, including in Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere.
“We sing and talk about raising a child with autism,” Donna Journey explained.
The Journeys have recorded multiple CDs and some of their songs have placed among the top 100 on gospel music charts. The group is now signed with an agency in Nashville.
The upcoming Autism Walk of Surry 2017 is a special time for the Journeys due to performing in their home area — the family lives in the Fairview community of the county — and because of Ben’s condition.
“It means the world to us, because we can put Ben up there and let parents see what he can do,” Donna Journey said.
The Journeys plan to sing “Give Them Chances,” an original composition with an autism theme, during kickoff activities for the April 29 walk to be held in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month.
Ben will play the keyboard for that song.
“We’re excited to have The Journeys,” said Bridget Soots, a local banker and coordinator for the Surry County Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina who serves as walk director. Soots’ son Caiden, 12, also has autism.
“It really means a lot,” she said of having The Journeys sing at the upcoming event, mentioning that the family once was a member of the local autism group and certainly is tuned in to the subject matter involved.
Soots explained that efforts are made each year to secure talent or attractions that help make the Autism Walk a memorable community event, and The Journeys are a natural fit for the gathering.
“With Ben being autistic, that’s just awesome,” Soots said.
Registration begins at 8 a.m. on April 29 for the walk, which will be held rain or shine and start on the Ararat River Greenway at 9 a.m.
Zumba led by Scarlet Easter and Mandy Inman also will be part of the event along with the special singing by The Journeys, and “many” vendors will be at the park offering services to help those affected by autism, Soots said.
The walk attracts a good number of individual participants as well as teams sponsored by business, school or other groups, which is the case for 2017.
“This year, we have over 40 teams participating,” Soots said.
The registration fee is the $15 cost of an Autism Walk T-shirt, and those who do not buy a shirt will pay a $10 registration fee. There is no fee for children 12 and under.
“You can still buy a shirt,” Soots said, adding that shirts will be available on the day of the walk on a first-come, first-served basis.
No registration is required for those who have bought T-shirts.
More information is available at www.autismwalkofsurry.com or by contacting Bridget Soots at 336-401-7105 or Lisa Jeffreys, 336-789-9639.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.