‘Music heals’: Jordan teen finds the transformative power of singing

·3 min read

Audrey Winterstein has come a long way in the past few years.

For most of her life, the quiet girl stayed indoors, didn’t go out much and didn’t go to school. But one day, when she was around 12 years old, she suddenly decided to start singing.

Since then, her life has been transformed by music, and she now attends school and performs on stage across Niagara.

The 16-year-old, who was diagnosed with autism, anxiety and selective mutism, was “mute (for) most (of) her life,” according to local musician Victor Morgado.

Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist who is on the board of the Selective Mutism Association, explained that an individual with the condition may be a “total chatterbox” at home, but not able to talk outside of the house.

It’s sometimes misunderstood as shyness or caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which Busman says are “huge” myths. “Someone who is shy warms up,” she said. “An hour’s interaction and you’d never know they were shy.”

And shyness doesn’t impair a person from having a job or being a student, Busman added. Awareness about the condition has improved in recent years, but Busman stressed there is still a long way to go.

In her home in Jordan, Audrey is surrounded by creativity. Her mother, Jill Lunn, is an Indigenous artist and her stepfather Ryan Lunn is a musician. The house is full of creative energy, and includes a grand piano surrounded by a gallery of paintings.

It was at that piano, one day when Audrey was around 12, she sat down and decided to start singing. At first, Audrey sung an unexpected mix of Japanese anime songs (in fluent Japanese), songs from the TV show “Glee” and the musical “Hamilton.”

Audrey estimates she memorized roughly 80 per cent of “Hamilton” and 20 anime songs. Ryan believes by learning a foreign language and paying attention to the pronunciation, it helped Audrey to speak and sing in English. Audrey agrees. Now, she sings with Ryan, covering The Beatles, Queen, Radiohead and other rock artists.

When asked why she likes singing so much, Audrey simply replied, it’s fun. “It sounds nice … it feels nice when you’re singing and it sounds really good.”

Ryan said during the past couple of years music has helped her make “amazing strides” in her life. “Music was one of the main outlets, even in her darkest times,” he said.

Audrey now performs on stage across Niagara. On June 12, she performed at the Superheroes of Autism Talent Showcase in Niagara Falls.

Jenn Wodynski, who organized the showcase, said Audrey was amazing and has improved quite a bit in the last few years. “It was hard to fight back the tears,” she said. “Music heals, it’s medicine.”

Wodynski first ran the talent show in 2019 to give individuals with autism and other conditions such as Down syndrome, “the chance to shine” and to be “treated like rock stars.”

It’s not just singers who can perform at the show, but also dancers, poets, magicians, comedians, artists and crafters.

During the past few years, Audrey’s life has been transformed so much, she even started school last year, enrolling at Great Lakes Christian High School. “Now, at school, everyone is talking to me,” she said.

Religion also played a big part in helping Audrey, and Ryan describes her baptism around one year ago as a fresh start. She now attends Bethany Community Church, which Jill said also helped the family.

“It’s always a surprise what you’re capable of,” she tells her daughter, with a smile on her face.

“You make me very proud.”

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News

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