Guitar just the hook for neurodiverse rocker

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Extra-sensitive hearing and an autism diagnosis has given rise to the monster talent of JayBird Byrne, who lets her ‘Frankenstat’ electric guitar do the talking when words are hard to find.

Jaybird walking along pier with a guitar in hand. Her face turns back towards the camera.

At the tender age of 12, JayBird is blowing the minds of seasoned musicians with her amazing guitar skills, and the scary thing is she can only get better.

JayBird, from Narangba, north of Brisbane, lives with autism and ADHD and has been playing the guitar since she was 8.

Ahead of World Autism Day, on  2 April, the NDIS participant puts her amazing musical ability down to her disability.

“I believe it’s my autism that gives me the ability to play the guitar,” JayBird said.

“My guitar is like a translator of sorts. I find it hard to express myself through normal language.”

JayBird has a rare type of autism known as Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA), which results in the extreme resistance or avoidance of the expectations of daily life. 

Her NDIS supports include fortnightly psychology appointments to manage her anxiety, regulate emotions and to develop social skills. 

She also sees an occupational therapist each month to help her with sensory issues and personal care.

JayBird initially enrolled in mainstream education for 3 years, before becoming a distance education student until last year. 

This year, mum Samantha has taken on a teaching role, home-schooling JayBird in Year 8 subjects. 

She also lives with dad, Dominic, and her 2 dogs, Bosco and Eddie. 

“JayBird has extra-sensitive hearing, which made school hard, and going out in general,” Samantha said. 

“But it is this extra-sensitive hearing that makes playing music so easy.”

When she’s not studying, she’s playing “Frankie”, an Eddie Van Halen signature series guitar dubbed the “Frankenstrat”, which was designed to be played loud and fast.

“I didn’t just get it because it was an Eddie Van Halen guitar,” JayBird said. 

“I love Eddie, but I want to make the sound my own. 

"It just connected with me.

“It’s not my first guitar. 

"I’ve got a Les Paul and a few others, and I’m planning to get a Charvel in the future.”

Besides Van Halen, JayBird’s influences include Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Jason Becker and others.

With an EP called Dog Tales on the way, JayBird practices 3 hours a day and takes weekly lessons from Brisbane guitar teacher, Simon Gardner.

“JayBird is such an intelligent, gracious and talented young person,” Simon said. 

“Her playing technique continues to evolve at such a rapid rate, it would put many players her senior to shame.

“I always look forward to our sessions together and to see and hear the progress in her song writing each week.”

NDIS provider Team Musicare, which offers musical programs for people with a disability, took on JayBird as a sponsor last year.

Owner and seasoned musician Dan Nebe was immediately impressed.

“Prodigy is probably the word that comes to mind,” Dan said.

“JayBird’s already written, recorded and co-produced her own song (Convergence). 

"Her dedication to her craft is phenomenal.”

JayBird has a message for both neurodiverse and neurotypical people.

“It can be hard but always remember there’s a silver lining,” Jaybird said.

“There will be something that will spark your interest and that’s going to be your moment to shine.

“Some people say autism is like a superpower.

"I do not believe autism is a superpower or a disability. 

“People with autism are a bit like guitar amps. 

"They’re going to be wired differently. 

"They will have different abilities and disabilities but, at the end of the day, they’re all still amps. 

"We’re all still humans.”

JayBird is one of almost 200,000 participants nationally who have listed autism as their primary disability