A little more than two years ago, Ting Perlis, a Glendale teen with autism, said she didn’t know what to do with her life and wondered if she would ever go to college.
Even after moving out of a public school and into a therapeutic center in Altadena, Ting Perlis became more and more withdrawn, according to her mother, Deborah, who is a special education teacher at Burbank High School.
She hardly left the comfort of her bedroom and even avoided talking to her mother and two brothers.
One day on a drive through the Montrose shopping park, the Hummingbird Conservatory of the Arts caught Debora Perlis’ eye, and she remembered that her daughter was always singing under her breath.
After a phone call to conservatory voice teacher Tara Wallace, who had never worked with children on the autism spectrum before, Ting Perlis enrolled in singing lessons.
“I brought my daughter there because I just wanted her to be happy. I didn’t think she had any secret talent,” Deborah Perlis said. “I wanted to give her something to feel good about and look forward to.”
Now, two years later, Ting Perlis, 14, is one of few singers selected for the 2018 Young Adult Honors Performance Series in February, a program that brings together talented young adult vocalists to work alongside renowned conductors and musicians at Carnegie Hall in New York.
It was only after six months of lessons that Wallace began challenging Ting Perlis to perform progressively more difficult pieces by composers such as Franz Schubert. Deborah Perlis said that, through some struggle, usually in the form of tears, her daughter mastered the songs.
“I remember my daughter telling me, ‘When I sing, nobody sees the autism,’” Deborah Perlis said.
After an introduction to opera, Deborah Perlis reached out to the L.A. Opera, where Ting Perlis won tickets to see Plácido Domingo’s “Macbeth.” It was then, during intermission, that Ting Perlis told her mother she could sing opera and began planning for her advance college degree.
“I love singing ... even though sometimes it can be really hard,” Ting Perlis said. “Once I learn a song, it’s really satisfying to know that I learned it even though it might have been a really hard song — like I would literally be bawling right in the middle of my session.”
Following her opera aspirations, Deborah Perlis and Wallace took Ting Perlis to a local theater audition just so she could see what it was like. However, they forgot to warn her that directors sometimes interrupt performers and stop them in the middle of singing.
When that happened, Ting Perlis began “screaming her head off” at the director and then ran out of the audition room, Deborah Perlis recalled.
“It’s been a struggle. A lot of behavior intervention and a lot of crying — but that’s the thing, she hasn’t given up,” she said.
When Wallace nominated Ting Perlis for the Young Adult Honors Performance Series, her mother thought it was a long shot. But now, Deborah Ting said she can’t believe someone who was knocking over desks and having meltdowns is headed to Carnegie Hall.
However, because of her daughter’s challenges, Deborah Perlis said she needs help to pay for the program costs for not only her daughter but also for herself so that she can provide critical support every step of the way.
A GoFundMe campaign started last week has raised about $4,000 out of the $6,000 goal as of Tuesday.
“There are so many parents out there that when our kids are diagnosed, we are told to abandon the dreams we had for our kids,” Deborah Perlis said. “So, to me, it’s about more than fundraising, it’s to show other parents, like me, don’t give up.”