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Teen with Asperger's to sing national anthem

High Point Enterprise - 7/5/2019

Jul. 4--HIGH POINT -- Julian Kennedy is no stranger to baseball fields, but when he takes the field at Friday night's High Point Rockers game, it promises to be special.

Ten years ago, Julian played on the opening day of High Point's brand new Miracle League, an adaptive baseball league for children with physical and/or developmental disabilities. A couple of years later, he sang the national anthem at the Miracle League field, a pretty ambitious feat for a child with Asperger syndrome.

Friday night, those experiences will come full circle when the 19-year-old High Pointer sings the national anthem at the Rockers game, a testament to the young man -- and the gifted musician -- he has become.

"Julian was about 3 years old when he started showing an interest in music," recalls his mother, Lavonda Kennedy. "And I could tell he was good."

Kennedy remembers giving her son a set of toy instruments, and he immediately picked up a little plastic saxophone and began playing a tune. She bought him a recorder, and he did the same thing.

"Anything that he heard, he could replicate," she says.

When he was about 7, his godmother bought him a Yamaha keyboard, and he quickly taught himself to play that, too. The family hired a piano instructor to teach him the fundamentals, but after three lessons, he determined Julian didn't need his help.

Julian joined the band in middle school, first playing the trumpet and then switching to the euphonium, and that's when he learned to read music.

"Then he could sit and open a hymnbook or look at music and play what was on paper," Kennedy says, "but up until that point, he played everything by ear."

Julian remained in band during his years at Ragsdale High School, serving as drum major his senior year. He's now a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he's majoring in jazz studies.

"I hope to perform and go on tours and hopefully write songs and have my own studio," Julian says of his musical aspirations. "I've just always loved music."

In the meantime, he'll add Friday night's performance of the national anthem to his list of credits.

"He sings like a bird -- he's just so talented, and he's such a great kid," says family friend Geoff Beaston, who was Julian's Miracle League coach and has remained close to the family. It was Beaston who encouraged Julian to send an audition tape to the Rockers, and he wasn't at all surprised when the Rockers gave him the go-ahead.

How good is Julian? Well, three years ago, he entered the "High Point Has Talent" annual talent competition and won second place for his piano-and-vocal performance of "His Eye Is On the Sparrow."

Julian's success comes despite having been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at a very young age. Asperger's, as it is sometimes called, is a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. Individuals with the disorder typically have difficulty with social interaction and nonverbal communication, as well as a tendency to fixate on certain topics.

"He will fixate on a certain subject," Kennedy says of her son, "but his subject just happens to be music."

According to Kennedy, people with Asperger's are socially awkward, often failing to pick up on other people's emotional cues or unwittingly violating their personal space.

Intellectually, though, Julian is high-functioning. During high school, he was inducted into the National Honor Society and the Beta Club, and he's doing well with his studies at UNCG.

"He's just socially awkward," Kennedy says, "but he functions very well."

Friday night, more than 80 Miracle League participants are expected to be at the Rockers game cheering Julian on.

And is he nervous?

"No, not at all," he says with a chuckle. "I'm ready to go." -- 336-888-3579


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