COLUMBUS, Ohio — Music can move people, and a 19-year-old with autism is finding out it can move her to express herself in ways she didn’t think were possible.

What You Need To Know

  • 19-year-old Raya Smith was diagnosed with autism when she was around 23 months old

  • Smith enjoys singing and playing all kinds of instruments

  • Smith's mother shares why she turns to music and how it helps her express herself

The sweet sounds of Raya Smith’s voice bring out her best self.

“This kid will transform on stage,” said Angela Jones, Smith’s mother.

Jones enjoys listening to her daughter in the background. 

“You can see her just roam around and do little noises, not interact with you, not want to be with people, but she gets on that stage and that music plays,” Jones said. “She turns into a totally different person.”

Jones was the first to suspect that Smith was on the autism spectrum. She was working with children with special needs and noticed parallels in her daughter’s behavior.

“When she was 18 months, she was talking, then she stopped and didn’t make eye contact,” said Jones. 

In a matter of months, Smith was diagnosed with autism, and Jones was quick to act. 

“I got intervention early, which is key,” said Jones.

According to the CDC, early intervention can teach important skills, like walking and talking. Jones said it brought out social skills and positive replacement behaviors in Smith. Jones believes early intervention, along with music, was the best thing for her daughter. 

“When she was young, she used to self-esteem with her hands,” said Jones. “My dad said we got to put something in her hands. So, he bought her the maracas, tambourine and symbols. She started to do a little better.”

Smith has been singing since she was 4, but Jones said all the instruments Smith plays, for the most part, she learned on her own. 

“Music is her outlet. She loves music,” said Jones. “She taught herself how to play the piano, and then did formal lessons, taught herself to play the guitar, taught herself to play the saxophone.” 

You’ll find their home is filled with music and love.

“Music calms her,” said Jones. “It’s her happy place. It shocks me every time she does it. I’m like, ‘Wow.’”