By Darold Treffert, MD
Bugra, who lives in Hatay/Iskenderun in Turkey on the Mediterranean coast, was diagnosed with autistic disorder at age 3. At that time he was detached and distant although he showed exceptional memory skills and interest in, and expertise, with PC games. Language and social skills remained problems, though. Through intensive therapy and education he made good gains overall however, although language has remained limited.
At age 3½, his parents gave him puzzle boards that had alphabet letters. By putting those letters together into words, he started to read in a few days. Soon he was reading (decoding) every word. Bugra completed preschool in a Montessori program and then entered primary school. He is now in regular classrooms but he is almost always accompanied by his mother in those classes, however, so he can be fully involved in the curriculum and lessons.
Bugra was not really exposed any formal music training until about age 10. His parents thought that music might provide an added color and richness to his life so they engaged a private teacher to give lessons. According to his parents, Bugra’s “progress was amazing, as if he were absorbing and the music teacher’s knowledge and experience like downloading files. He memorized many songs and played them on a keyboard by ear. Three or four months later the teacher told us ‘I have nothing more to teach him.’ The teacher also felt Bugra had perfect pitch and recommended testing for that and that he should continue advanced lessons with another teacher.”
Testing by University of California Genetics of Absolute Pitch study group in 2004 did confirm the presence of absolute pitch. In a report to the parents that project reported that Bugra was one of the youngest participants in their project and he “has the highest level of absolute pitch. His score of the pure tone test at 31 exceeds the cut-off point of 24.5 points and his score on the piano tone test of 33 exceeds the cut-off point of 27.8.” Even more impressively, and rare, a repeat of that testing in 2006 showed Bugra to have done even better, recording a “perfect score” of 36/36 for both pure tone and piano tone.
In 2004 an advanced piano teacher, Mrs. Hilal Onal, began to work with Bugra six to 10 hours per week. Bugra had his first recital one year later where he played J.S. Bach’s Minuet in D Major and M. Clementi’s Sonatina in C Minor. The teacher told the parents Bugra had completed two years work in one year’s time. In April, 2006 Bugra passed the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music Grade 1 examination “with distinction.” He passed the Grade 2 examination “with distinction” in January, 2007, and then passed the Grade 3 examination, also “with distinction,” in May, 2007.
In July, 2006, Bugra was invited to participate and perform at the Autism: Art & Music conference hosted by the Autism Research Centre of the University of Cambridge in London, England, which was held September 17, 2006. Bugra appeared as one of 12 exceptional musicians with Autistic or Asperger’s Disorder who performed at that event, including Derek Paravicini. There were a number of artists who displayed their art works at that event as well, including Stephen Wiltshire, Gilles Trehin and Yeak Ping Lian, who are also profiled on this site.
As is the case with so many savants, Bugra did develop calendar calculating abilities and has became quite expert at that skill. Given a date, he can provide the day of the week instantly and correctly. But his interest in piano is foremost, perhaps, his parents speculate, because “there is nothing unfamiliar anymore about calendars” yet the higher and higher level of achievements possible with the piano continue to challenge and motivate him to ever increasing musical ability.