Chooka Parker, 16 Year Old Piano Prodigy

CoachingInspirationRecommendations
May 5, 2011

Me and heart-touching stories go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Suffice to say, this is one of the most remarkable I’ve come across in some time…

Please allow me to introduce Chooka Parker, a 16 year old Farmhand from rural Australia.  In this clip Chooka is showing up to audition for Australia’s Got Talent.  As the camera pans the audience before he plays, you can tell that they’re expecting a trainwreck based on the things he’s shared in his opening intro, including that fact that:

  1. He’s self-taught
  2. He’s 16
  3. He’s never performed in front of an audience before
  4. He’s decided it would be fun to make the piece up as he goes

Little did they know what’s in store for them…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NI2OnoaO7ak

What struck me most about Chooka was the fact that neither FEAR nor his GREMLIN (ego) had any hold on him.  He was simply there to play, which was what he loved to do more than anything in the world.  And play he did!

I couldn’t help but wonder how he had escaped the vices that so many of us fall victim to.  Was it the lack of TV?  The encouragement from his parents?  The fact that he had no formal training and never learned to compare himself to others?  Why do so many of us bury our talents for fear of having them judged?  We’d rather shelve them completely than have someone rob us of the joy of honing our gift.  In case you didn’t notice, that’s a lose-lose proposition!

I truly believe that we are all prodigies in our own rights.  Sadly, we rarely give ourselves permission to OWN our brilliance.  We all have an inkling of where our brilliance lies, it just scares us so much that we bury it and use all our emotional energy keeping it away from us.  You see, when we’re busy channeling all our energy into fear, there’s no room for it to be invested in developing our gift.  It’s a very convenient gremlin ruse and one that I’ve only recently become aware of in my life.

So my question for you today is, “How would your life be different today if you could wave a magic wand and permanently erase all the negative criticism and limiting thoughts that have stifled your ‘inner prodigy’?”   Let’s hear some inklings of where you think your ‘inner prodigy’ lies…

Since this is vulnerable stuff, I’ll go first with the hope that you’ll be brave enough to follow (don’t leave me hanging here people, okay)?

The easy thing to say here would be that my ‘inner prodigy’ lies in coaching.  And while that would be true, I think it’s even bigger than that.  I’ve never said this before (other than to my own coach), but I sense that my real genius lies as a HEALER.  Just writing that makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit because it feels so grandiose to put out there.  I mean, who besides Jesus and the Prophets claim that they’re a healer (why, hello Ms. Gremlin, nice to see you!)  I digress…

Yes, I sense that I’m meant to heal.  I’m not sure what type of healing it is yet, only that it produces radical transformation for the individual.  I get the feeling that it may be along the emotional/energetic/spiritual plane instead of the physical, but again that remains to be seen.  At times I feel like I’ve been anointed for this work (feels like more than a calling, like it’s not my choice), which scares the bejeezus out of me and makes me want to run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.  I am actively working with my coach to get unstuck though, so I may have the courage to do the work that is being asked of me, even though most days I feel completely inadequate for the task.

So there you have it folks.  What say you on this topic?

 

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29 Comments

  1. I can’t get the U-tube clip to play yet, maybe internet’s going slow here at the moment. Anyway, I can still comment on what you said!

    I belong to a small group that I discovered, after I joined it, identifies itself as “missionary mums.” I always feel that if I’m a missionary, I must be a modern-day Jonah! I manage to live in this country without really interacting with local people and I do tend to run away from opportunities to meet them! The windows of opportunity are open such a short time each that they’re easy to ignore…

  2. He’s incredible, but the reaction before his performance is nowhere near as bad as Susan Boyle’s or that opera singer guy (Paul something?) got on Britain Got Talent.

    Now as for what I’d be a prodigy at? I have no clue. Really. Nothing…

  3. Sarah Novak says:

    Beautiful – I love it! Hope the clip works for you later…

  4. Sarah Novak says:

    Perhaps the Aussies are a little kinder than the Brits? And I don’t believe you have no ‘inner prodigy’! Keep looking…

  5. Robin says:

    You’re right. This is an area that people are taught NOT to discuss. If you claim your gifts, you’re bragging. If you go out and try to grab an obscure lifestyle or risky profession, you’re not being a realist.

    ~

    The thing is – the more I am away from my classroom this year, the more I KNOW the truth. I am a natural teacher. Lesson planning, innovation, the needs of my kiddos… it makes sense to me. When faced with a tough student situation or a new teaching method, I just sort of “do what feels right” and it generally works out. My kids learn – and I know it. My kids THINK – and they know it.

    That doesn’t mean that I always have success. But I know that teaching is different from anything else in my life because when things turn sour, it is the ONE area where I allow myself a dose of failure without feeling like I am one myself. This also doesn’t mean that I don’t work my TAIL off to make my class successful. But maybe that’s a sign of our prodigy too… how hard willing we are to WORK for it.

    ~

    I believe we make a mistake when we assume that our gifts lie in a specific object or profession. Instead, maybe our “inner prodigies” are not nearly so focused, but are linked to the core of who we are and can be applied with broad strokes.

    My inner prodigy lies in my ability to inspire and excite others into action. Right now that gift fits best inside a middle school classroom, but maybe later it will evolve and fit in other realms.

    You are ALREADY a healer and always have been, but the way you choose to use your gift will change and evolve as you do.

    And what if that kid’s dad had given him a harmonica? A set of drums? A paintbrush? Chooka’s inner prodigy is NOT the piano – the piano is only the vehicle that life has given him to share what he has. His inner prodigy, instead, may be his ability to take what is deep inside of him and bring it to the surface for everyone to see and experience right along side of him.

    ~

    “How would your life be different today if you could wave a magic wand and permanently erase all the negative criticism and limiting thoughts that have stifled your ‘inner prodigy’?”

    That’s what this year in my life has been about. I have taken a time out and a step back – and in doing so I have ceased to feel “stuck” in my job. Because teaching isn’t a job… it’s what I’m wired up to do.

    I had to leave the classroom to discover that I am, in fact, a teacher. :)

  6. Sarah Novak says:

    Seriously, you a a whole bundle of brilliance all wrapped up! I am itching to meet you in person Ms. Robin!!

    Here are the things that rang true for me about what you said:

    1. Sometimes you need a complete absence of your gift to make you know the truth.
    2. When working with your brilliance, there is an ability to separate FAILURE from FAILING.
    3. **LOVE THIS INSIGHT** That our ‘inner prodigy’ is not tied to the DOING of the activity, but who we are BEING when we apply it! I had a total AHA moment when I read that paragraph. Yes, it’s so true! Right now I heal through coaching, but later on I may heal through a different medium. That’s what I understand now, it’s not the medium that matters, but the fact that I continue to find new ways to heal people! So how then, would you articulate what Chooka’s brilliance is? It feels bigger than musical expression, but what then?

    Yay for discovering that it’s in your lifeblood to be a teacher!! Those are some lucky little kiddos… :)

    Thanks for channeling your genius into such a thoughtful reply. It really deepened my understanding of this topic!

    XOXO, Sarah

  7. Wow, I’ve just watched it. He is brilliant!

  8. Robin says:

    When I saw Chooka perform I didn’t notice the music as much as his body language. He sort of just sunk into the piano. No fear about right or wrong or posture or correctness (why WOULD he? As you said, he never felt the pressure to compare himself to anyone else). He just played.

    I teach a lot of gifted and talented students. Not simply “bright” ones… but really out-there, hard core gifted kiddos… like Chooka. The problem, often times, is that these kids have been told,
    “You’re gifted in math.”
    “You’re gifted in music.”

    This places them in a box that a 12 year old (or anyone, really) has a hard time getting out of. They show up in my humanities class, firmly rooted in this box, which often manifests itself in one of two responses:

    a.) “I am gifted in math, therefore I am not gifted in your class because my skills don’t apply here.”
    ~or~
    b.) “I am gifted in math, therefore I don’t NEED your class because the skills you’re teaching won’t really matter for my future.”

    My take is – “No, you’re not gifted in MATH. Your gift is in finding sound solutions to abstract problems. Your gift is breaking down complex issues into small, logical steps. Your gift is in finding patterns and using those patterns to draw conclusions. And those gifts can be readily applied in these ways in my class (list ways). Now, get to work.”

    Just like our last conversation, the gift is NOT the subject area – it’s deeper than that. My job as a teacher is to help that child (ANY child, not just the labeled ones), break down their strengths into usable, transferable parts.

    ~

    If Chooka were my student and I witnessed that performance, my first response would be to say, “Holy crap – how the heck can I get that channeled into my classroom!” After all, he cannot complete his English assignment by playing the piano. Okay, sometimes he can – but not always.

    So what ARE his transferable elements?

    1.) His ability to feel something inside and make it come out of him in a tangible, sharable way.
    If the humanities study what makes us human and how we share our human-ness with one another… than his natural gift is, essentially, an embodiment of my subject area! How cool is that?! :)
    And maybe that becomes the essential question of our class. Our year is spent researching and identifying different methods and means people use to make themselves heard – and our task is to try on these different methods for size.

    2.) His gift of rhythm and beautifully fluid phrasing. I have to give him the permission (and the tools) to express that in writing, perhaps a form of unconventional poetry… maybe not even using conventional “words” as we know them.

    3.) Can he take a character’s situation, internalize it, and express his interpretation of their emotional state through his music? Is he only able to speak for himself… or could this gift be transferable to external situations? Call it extreme empathy?

    4.) The “switch” – What about the piano got inside of him and made that his vehicle? When he sits down to play, how does he *change*? Can other mediums produce a similar change to occur – even to a lesser degree? Can I help him apply this sort of passionate focus to other areas, even when they are less comfortable or desirable for him than the piano?

    ~

    I’m not sure I answered your root question…
    But you’ve got me thinking BIG TIME now and I like that. ;)
    Thanks for flipping my “switch” on today.

  9. Sarah Novak says:

    Yay! Glad you got it… :)

  10. Sara Roy says:

    When you first were talking about inner prodigy I couldn’t think of one single talent that I have that this could be. But as I thought more of it, and as I read Robin’s first comment I think I know what that is. I think my inner prodigy is servanthood. The jobs I’m most attracted to, then to be administrative in nature, and I think this is why. I’ve had a hard time in the last 12 years deciding what I want to be when I grow up, and I really think this was an AHA moment for me. Now…to register for school. ;)

  11. Sarah Novak says:

    Woot Woot! I love hearing that!! What a beautiful thing to claim as your gift! :) Three cheers for Robin and her insightful commentary on this post!

  12. Lego says:

    I wonder how many chooka’s there were a hundred years ago when the piano was THE entertainment device. Probably one in every saloon, restaurant and club. And they would have treated him like a common day hack because he wasn’t clasically trained maybe? He would have played along to the silent movies making it up as he went along. And society would have looked down upon him as being relatively talentless and not worthy. Now he’s the shiz in the shobiz. Not judging – just saying. Oh and I wish him only well.

  13. Lego says:

    The point I am making is that if we saw a highly experienced worker from a meat abattoir debone and clean an animal in sixty seconds we would be amazed and impressed at their ‘talent’ and their astounding dexterity with the knife. Is Chooka’s skill not just like this and is it what we should be celebrating? Maybe we are just ignorant because we can’t appreciate ‘real’ piano playing by those who have perfected a piece by playing it over and over again.

  14. Lego says:

    And my last point is that maybe it’s wrong that we celebrate a piano player who is great jammer over many others who may be technically more brilliant but whose music and brilliance we can’t appreciate because we don’t know how? It’s kind of like asking 16 year old skateboarders which tastes nicer MacDonalds and Doritos or a dish of Foie Grais prepared by a Michelin star chef and then concluding the burger makers or food chemists are better chefs?

  15. Alek says:

    Sorry guys, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but a prodigy like this comes but one a century, or more. This is a Paganini of piano, a total game changer. You listen to contemporary classical composition, with all the training, discipline and dedication supporting their artistry, they have nothing on this kid who composes ON THE FLY.

    The extraordinary thing is that Chooka is completely unassuming doesn’t seem to understand exactly how prodigious he is.

    While it’s a nice thought, let us in turn be unassuming about our own mortal capabilities and not compare fanciful potential “in all of us” against a truly profound prodigy.

    You are not all genius. Live life and be happy knowing it.

  16. Robin says:

    Lego –
    I don’t think I understand your points. Are you arguing that we should not celebrate Chooka’s talent, or that we should not give it the same level of credence, because he hasn’t had years of conservatory training?

    Also, are you suggesting that an audiences opinion on what is “good” only counts if that audience is ALSO trained in the finer points of music? (if so, this spells trouble for the music industry, which relies quite heavily on those burger-snarfing 16 year olds…)

    Finally, your 2nd point suggests that what Chooka does is not “real” piano playing – so tell me, what constitutes something as “real?” It sure sounded real to me.

    You draw the connection to the worker at the meat abattoir, almost as if to suggest that we are silly to celebrate such a skill of dexterity. Well…
    1.) Heck yes that meat carver is worth celebrating for his crazy-mad skills in his field; and

    2.) No, what Chooka has is not just a skill of dexterity, but also a natural musical ear – which means he’s got TWO sizable natural gifts working in tandem to give him this outcome. Pretty incredible.

    Celebrating Chooka’s natural born gift does not discredit those who have worked at their musical gifts for years and years – or at least it shouldn’t. If a studied musician feels offended or threatened by such a small-time player (even if he “is” the “shiz in shobiz” now… which I really doubt), then it is highly possible that they feel that way due to past personal slights or perhaps a sense of elitist entitlement that says you have to “earn it the ‘real’ way” in order for it to “count.” I would be baffled to meet a musical professional that would not acknowledge this kid’s natural abilities and choose to CELEBRATE that.

  17. Robin says:

    Alek – one thought for you too… (and then I’m done – I promise!) :)

    I would still argue that EVERYONE (yeah, I said it, everyone) has an area of “prodigy” in them. If you’re uncomfortable with that word – or with words like “genius,” that’s fine. Replace it with “rare talent” or “giftedness” or “extraordinary skill.”

    The thing is, not everyone’s gift is readily identifiable or publicly acknowledged (or even respected) like this kid’s is. He’s the easy kind of prodigy to identify, therefore making him seem like an anomaly. But I would say that while his particular area and degree of prodigy is rare, BEING a prodigy is not.

    I challenge you to think of 5 people you know that are absolutely, 100% average in all things. 5 people that you can say, without a doubt, have NO extraordinary talents or gifted areas of their lives. Acquaintances don’t count because you do not know them well enough to make such as assessment. Can you think of anyone?

    I agree that we need to be happy with who we are and embrace our ordinary parts for what they are – ordinary. We cannot be happy if we are constantly trying to measure up to someone genius potential or benchmark that someone placed out there for us. But if we allow ourselves to become cynical about the possibility of there being “potential in all of us” or if we live a life where genius is a “fanciful” notion… I cannot see how that brings happiness either.

    Rather – start by redefining what “genius” is, and get it out of the narrow qualifications set out there by MENSA or college application boards. This is what, I think, Sarah was asking us to do in her article. She was asking us, “What natural gifts were YOU born with?” Because that is what prodigy is – a natural born gift. Be it musical giftedness, prolific writing abilities, or mad organizational skills… I’ve got to believe that we’ve all got something.

  18. Alek says:

    Gday Robin,

    I’m not at all uncomfortable with genius, prodigy, rare talent, or extraordinary.

    Please take them literally however so we are speaking about the same thing. Now I know benchmarks and measurements are often distorted and can even be fundamentally incorrect, or as you say MESA has a narrow definition, but they all follow one assumption. “Normal” is the standard that we measure against. Normal is the majority. Normal is the middle rung.

    Take the rungs, if you like, one step at a time it might be roughly like this:

    Moron, then imbecile, then idiot. Then its the majority. Yes? Then we have gifted, profoundly gifted, genius / prodigy.

    If we are all prodigies, then prodigy is the new normal and you can think of another term to explain extraordinary.

    Alek

  19. Robin says:

    Good point Alek – and good food for thought.

    As a teacher of many students whom are labeled as gifted, I struggle with this topic frequently. I don’t wish to underplay the value of a person’s gifted abilities (and yes, in their area of giftedness they ARE extraordinary). Their education in these areas needs to be treated in a special way, so as to teach them how to use it well.

    But we only classify as “gifted” those whose natural born abilities fall in certain designated categories. It has been decided that language, mathematics, science, art, music, and physical prowess (though this is often treated differently than the others) are areas in which you can be acknowledged.

    Is it possible that other realms could also hold prodigy, but that we don’t generally laud them? Maybe you’re right and that the word “prodigy” should be reserved for those that are extreme cases. I don’t deny that word has powerful connotations, and words do need to exist solely for special circumstances.

    But if you’re me, what do you tell the child whom society has classified as “moron” or “imbecile?” Do you teach them to find happiness in that classification and move on with their lives, or do you teach them to seek out an area within themselves that may be exceptional or gifted, albeit outside those traditional categories?

    – Robin

  20. Alek says:

    I absolutely get it Robin and I tend to think we are in furious agreement for the most part.

    I also get that the terms I used are offensive and no longer PC, but I used them to point out the whole spectrum of ability.

    And I also get the need for self esteem, happiness and so forth. There is also a greater need for reality.

    Special needs kids are on both ends of the spectrum. The issue for kids with learning difficulties is easily defined. The issue for kids that are exceptional are more subtle, and perhaps more complex. Thats not to say one is easier to deal with than the other.

    There is an excellent paper by Mirica Gross – The “me” behind the mask. http://tiny.cc/7c136

    The points in Mirica Gross’ paper that I wish to pick up on is that giftedness is suppressed by a conformist society. With this in mind, the crux of the matter for me….

    Positive reinforcement in schooling has gone mad. We are raising a generation of kids who as young adults feel they can do no wrong. This can lead to very unhappy young adults when reality sets in, or young adults with levels of responsibility well beyond their abilities and experience… as a public servant I see this time and time again.

    Since Gen Y joined the workforce there has almost been a dumbing down of healthy debate through misplaced self belief – “there are no right and wrongs, there are just opinions” – this is how idiot opinions are given validity and worthy opinions devalued.

    When the worlds best minds tell us that the earth is warming, self interest and sceptics without any foundation and plenty of “front” can derail a sound argument.

    There was a time we held prodigies in higher regard without the belief we were all as good.

    Alek.

  21. Alisa says:

    Fantastic conversation. I hope you have seen the follow up judging, which I think is more telling than his original performance.
    He walks laconically to the judging panel. He barely reacts apart from a genuine smile at their glowing accolades. And then unhurriedly saunters away. Not a touch of cockiness.
    But here is the thing that grabbed my attention. He said something that made my eyes widen.
    Not verbatim…” I often feel kinda disconnected with things, like there’s something going on here and something going on there but I’m not really connected with it. The music somehow helps me connect everything together”
    As aunt to two autistic boys (well, men now) of well separated ages, I heard almost the exact same words from both of them at different times.
    I wonder if he has touch of autism and although the rest of the world struggles with providing the right environment for those kids as they grow up, much of it is in direct conflict with what helps them flourish. A busy confusing world, with little repetition and enough people around to for them to identify they are different from most others early.
    Chooka has had the opposite. A life where nature keeps its perfect reliable clock. Sun up, sun down. Television doesn’t push a world of conflicting messages and unrealistic expectations at kids, and adults alike. Caring for animals was not a weekly therapy as many use but a day in, day out lifestyle. A small supportive group of people who are probably just as different as each other, not a seething mass of the ‘norm’ by percentage. He was home schooled. He is brilliant and bright. He just doesn’t need to speak quickly, the way many of us are taught we need to by the social norm, lest we don’t get our thought across in time, or bore our busy other-things-to-do-other-places-to-go listener.
    Strangely though, and this is a paradox, we see the modern media generation growing up too fast, processing several lifetimes’ worth of external input in a few years. Seeming grown up before their time. So sure of themselves, often without justification. And yet, here’s Chooka with almost none of that influence, exuding a much more real maturity, that seems to ooze out of him. I would not have believed he was 16 if I’d met him.
    I thoroughly advise if you haven’t already, to read this interview with him. He tells a lovely story of how he found a Mozart CD helping clear out a house, and since they didn’t have a CD player, he just read the cover over and over for two years, wondering what it sounded like before they got a player. “I really wanted to hear it. I grew up without a telly, the internet or CD player.” What a thought. “The Parkers have borrowed a television so they can watch Chooka on the national stage.” Classic. http://www.bendigoadvertiser.com.au/news/local/news/general/keyboardist-chookas-notsoclassic-ascent/2150564.aspx?storypage=1
    I hope I don’t offend anyone with the autism suggestion. Actually, no I don’t. It shouldn’t be offensive. It’s nothing more than a way of being. I wouldn’t have even thought of it except for the eerie nearly word perfect phrases about his feelings that I had heard before, from two people close to me. In their cases the word music was replaced with drawing and humming. It touched and heartened me.
    Either way, offended or not, what a great uplifting spirit to encounter.

  22. Alek says:

    Alisa – spot on, although I don’t believe it is autism. I think he is just profoundly gifted, and the “disconnect” with gifted kids is commonplace.

    I posted a link to an article by Mirica Gross that really is an awesome read http://tiny.cc/7c136. Well worth a look.

    Alek.

  23. Alisa says:

    Alek, I guess it doesn’t mater what you believe, or I believe (albeit not strongly) but that you have raised a fascinating point that I hadn’t ever thought of, perhaps they are linked.
    After reading your suggested article I now feel inclined to find out whether this has been researched in a direct way. I have never made this association even though I’ve always been interested in giftedness, autism and savant as stand alone subjects. In fact any neurofunctionality that produces displays of abnormal behaviour, both aberrations and desired talents.

    Unfortunately like most others, I fall into the trap that most do, and find myself celebrating a popular talent while my conscience tells me that there are people who can do things at much higher levels that aren’t, how do I put this… entertaining to us. The meat boning analogy made by Lego is case in point.

    I have often thought about that watching say, the Olympics, and thinking, here are millions glued to screens and lauding the guy who can run the fastest, but never heard of the one who can clap the fastest or whistle the loudest.

    Some of these things are noted in ‘novelty’ records type entertainment but over all, the difference in their gains from the talent is enormously out of kilter. Possibly world famous, showered with accolades and outrageously rich as a opposed to well, nothing except a perhaps dropped jaw and a wow! from a person or two. And all because we ‘like’ certain talents. How arbitrary. And I am guilty.

    What if humans didn’t have the sense of hearing, would we look at Chooka and say, gee that guy can move his fingers quickly. Right up there with clapping fast, just sightly more interesting to watch. But not for long.

    No, musical talent is something we admire and enjoy so here we all are talking about one boy from the bush. Again. Guilty.

  24. Carinya Mum says:

    I have read this conversation with interest. I watched Chookas audition with great delight, yes, his playing was wonderful, but the best part was his unassuming nature. he was playing because he enjoyed it and wanted others to enjoy it was well.

    My children go to a school which specifically doesnt give accolades to “gifted” children, be it academic, sporting or artistic. This is not because they dont deserve it, but more because the belief is each child has a duty, if you like, to do the best with what “gifts” they have been given. We have some outstanding individuals in different areas, but it isnt highlighted in the school newsletter as an individual achievement. It is a bit of a unique environment, but it does take the competiveness out of the classroom and allows everyone to be celebrated for their own achievements and abilities.

    I admire Chooka’s ability and his simple acceptance of the joy of music. Perhaps it is the absence of “modern day”, certainly the pressures are different….more realistic perhaps.

    personally, I would love for my children to reach a place where they were doing what they loved just for the sheer enjoyment, just as Chooka does.

  25. Robin says:

    That sounds like a school I wanna work at Carinya – and a healthy environment for your children.

    I like the idea that every child has “a duty” to perform at their best in the areas they’re strong at. Not only to perform their best, but also to use their gifts to support one another, seeing as everyone’s strengths are different.

    As long as school counselors/teachers are trained to ID and support the underlying concerns that can sometimes arise in gifted children who display skills well beyond their maturity (sometimes leading to extreme frustration, social ostracism and emotional/behavioral issues in these kiddos), then I think it’s great! Keeping things as natural as possible and providing a flexible curriculum from the START would probably nip many of these issues in the bud quite naturally anyway.

    Competitiveness is a real part of the real world – so it’s not sound practice to attempt to RID the classroom of it completely. However, I also believe that you can teach that healthy level of competitiveness that is critical to adulthood in a way that is not “winner-takes-all,” especially in those early years.

  26. Zoe says:

    Alisa, as a mother of an ASD child myself, my initial response is exactly the same as yours. Is Chooka some kind of Savant? So gifted and so wonderful. Probably enhanced by the fact that he has had tomake his own entertainment. What I thought was interesting was the ‘ I v’e never really fitted in’, I like my own company, Etc. An amazing talent, an extreme focus, the lack of need for socialization, an exceptional talent, preference for isolation. Blah, blah. As anyone who knows someone on the spectrum knows, these are all common attributes. that is not to take anything away from this mans talents. On the contrary, if Chooka is on the spectrum, he is certainly leading the way for the rest. Perhaps people will stop thinking ‘Rain Man’ when it comes to Autism, and start realising that every being on this planet has something to offer. Go Chooka.

  27. Alisa says:

    Zoe, a ha! You saw it too. So maybe there are others who have some close association with ASD and couldn’t help feeling the familiarity.

    Funny you should mention Rain Man. With Chooka my first thought was Brainman, whom I’m sure you’d know.
    He is a hero of mine. I am so taken by him, not just because he is one of the most extraordinary people on the planet, but for the things he can tell us (literally at last) about extreme savantism, and autism. No wonder some scientists must feel he is like some sacred key to great leaps in understanding that years of research into the condition haven’t been able to touch.

    He describes how he was isolated and consciously learnt socialization the way he learns a spoken language (last count 10 of them), by studying how to act and absorbing timing and flow. And boy did he succeed, a truly personable and gentle man around people.

    His autism traits are only evident when he is alone at home or that he tells you he can’t drive and he used to flail his arms, and they still come as a surprise to learn, even when you know he autistic.

    All that without touching the insights he has provided to savantism. He can describe what is happening in his brain when he is doing the outrageous things he can do with it, and what a revelation. I saw it in a whole different light, as do researchers I’m sure.

    I had always imagined it was to do with ultra speed of cognition in certain areas. The way he tells it, there is no cognition or calculation. None. It is just there, like a lounge chair. He simply looks at it in his mind and just says what is and how it feels, just the same way we all can also instantly do. Only in his case, the chair might be a 20 digit figure in answer to a sum.

    At last I felt I could identify with abilities that seemed impossible. We don’t question that we also have this ‘genius’ ability to be able recognise hundreds of attributes of objects in an instant. Size colour texture form light function shape position meaning material age and on and on. A picture tells a thousand words as they say. We might have some difficulty articulating it, but the image, and all those ‘calculations’ are already there. And we have millions of such objects in our repertoire.

    While his mind images aren’t existing objects – just forms with many attributes, understanding how and why his brain has pathways that link numbers and words to such images is now the question. This extreme synaesthesia hasn’t been documented before, let alone described so eloquently and even painted so we can actually ‘see’ what 658 hundred billion looks to him.

    It may be just a part of the spectrum, but at least it’s a stronger line of approach to follow up. That’s so exciting to me. “..the Rosetta Stone” as one Australian professor put it.

    Moreover, he has made scientists and layfolk alike wonder how many of our past famous genii and profoundly gifted may have been autistic but had trained themselves to behave in a fashion so that it was not recognisable. This is hard to research posthumously of course.

    So, yes, I wasn’t at all thinking Rain Man (who sadly died a year and a half ago aged only 58). I definitely associate Brainman more with Chooka, if he is indeed autistic at all.
    Ditto. Go Chooka!

    (For anyone who is not familiar with Daniel, just google brainman, wiki has a good roundup, but Daniel himself is his own best description and videos and writings are a delight. Hope he brings as much joy to everyone as he does me)

  28. Brett says:

    When i was young I loved to draw and paint and act. In 3rd grade for ‘show and tell’ I made up a play on the spot just because I loved it. I dragged my brother into it and a class friend. I got laughed at and didn’t understand. I remember the embarrassment I felt.

    At school in year 7 to 11 I had marks of A+ for Art class but was a hopeless daydreamer and failed everything else…even Physical Education and Religious Instruction classes.

    My parents were worried and in the second term of year 11 I went to a technical college and entered the year 11 leaving program. This was trade oriented. They felt there was no future for me academically so a trade would be best because there is no future or life in art. Strangely enough my father was a commercial artist when he was young and I remember as a kid Mum Dad and us kids hanging with the art scene, galleries wine and cheese openings etc. in the 70’s. In year 10 I was part of a thesis for a Uni student in teaching art. Because of this my work was presented in the thesis and I was actually offered a place in the university which required a year 12 pass to qualify. Mum and Dad didn’t think this was any sort of future so pushed me to a trade via a technical college.

    I don’t regret my life and never will. Everything I have done to now good or bad has brought me to this place in my life and I wouldn’t change any of it. However one does long for some things. I had my art drummed out of me. I miss it sometimes and wish I still felt that passion. I do know I will never stifle my children’s creativity, I will nurture it and let it lead them.

    Mum did tell me she regretted this decision some years later when in my mid 20’s. But I never held any resentment as they have always done what they thought best in my best interests and were/are wonderful parents and thank them for that.

  29. Hi, I don’t know if anyone visits this site anymore, but we are Chooka’sparents
    and wanted to touch base. Chooka is not autistic. We schooled him at home and were able to use methods and techniques in his learning that helped him greatly. Sadly these things are no longer used in school (i.e. phonetics and kinetic techniques). He has always been super active and we encouraged our boys to play outside, make things, explore nature. One thing we were strong on, was to be yourself. Chooka is comfortable being who he is, but many people are challenged by that, because they haven’t learnt that themselves. We have all been given gifts…some a few and some many gifts. It’s all about finding our gifting and pursuing it and therefore being who we were designed to be! Chooka doesn’t feel better than someone else because he can play the piano…he is amazed at what others can do too. We need to allow the energy God has given us to flow….by forgiving those who hurt us, helping others in need, seeing others as more important than ourselves. This will help us to be caring, gracious people.This is where it all starts. Chooka is just another person on this planet that wants to help others with his music. That is his goal and he has said it many times. All the best, Alan and Kerry Parker

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