AN AUTISTIC performer from Edinburgh who sang before she could speak has scooped a worldwide prize.
Samantha Ruderham, 17, beat off competition from around the globe to win the arts award for a recorded version of a Nina Simone classic.
She and her family will travel to the Canadian city of Vancouver to collect the award later this month, and are to be given five-star treatment by organisers who are backed by the government there.
The Moredun girl’s mother Sharon only sent the hastily recorded version of Feeling Good on the off chance it would succeed, and it is the first competition she has ever entered.
The judging panel at the International Naturally Autistic People Awards and Convention were so impressed, they selected it above hundreds of other entries.
Mrs Ruderham, who recently organised the city’s first Autism Gala, told the Evening News: “There are different awards which are given out and Sam’s the only one from Scotland who has won. She sees it as representing the people of Scotland.
“A while back we taped her singing Feeling Good after a session – it was all done in one take. We just sent it away, we didn’t add anything else like a biography of anything else she had done, then got a phone call to say she had won, inviting us to Canada for four days.”
It represents a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the teenager, whose first words came in the form of a Tina Turner song at the age of four.
She still speaks rarely, but has been praised for having the singing “voice of an angel”.
In 2009 she performed in front of more than 2000 people, along with a top opera singer and jazz pianist, at an autism fundraising event in Fife.
And she has been the catalyst for her mother’s quest for society to recognise the positive elements of the autism spectrum.
She added: “In Canada it’s quite common to have events like this, putting people with autism right at the centre of things. Over there, it’s not seen as a disability, they would rather concentrate on what abilities they do have.
“She was delighted when we told her about the competition. There was a bit of a delayed reaction, then she just threw her hands in the air and shouted: ‘I’ve won’.”
As well as collecting the trophy and performing at the ceremony, Samantha will also host a singing workshop for other people with autism.
A spokesman for the event, which is in its 16th year, said: “Our awards and convention celebrates all that the autistic community has to offer.
“Together we can raise awareness, celebrate the autistic community and provide a unique opportunity to further education, understanding and acceptance.