Mu­sic for Autism

En­cour­ag­ing ev­ery­one to march to the beat of their own drum

Natural Solutions - - Get Inspired - BY CARALIN WALSH

Tak­ing your kids out for a day of fun-filled ac­tiv­i­ties is a great way to bond. How­ever, for par­ents of chil­dren with autism, that’s eas­ier said than done. The stress over how their child will be­have through­out the day makes it dif­fi­cult to en­joy sit­u­a­tions where a cer­tain type of be­hav­ior is ex­pected. Ac­cord­ing to the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders (DSM-5), autism spec­trum dis­or­der (ASD) af­fects de­vel­op­ment and can cause deficits in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and so­cial­iza­tion, as well as a re­liance on rou­tines, sen­si­tiv­ity to change, and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iors. Th­ese ef­fects are what can make out­ings with autis­tic chil­dren chal­leng­ing. Par­ents can’t pre­dict how oth­ers will re­spond to their child’s be­hav­ior or how their child will re­spond to new en­vi­ron­ments.

For­tu­nately, not all en­ter­tain­ment venues re­quire par­tic­u­lar eti­quette, and, in fact, one is geared specif­i­cally to­ward chil­dren with autism. Mu­sic for Autism is an or­ga­ni­za­tion that hosts in­ter­ac­tive con­certs where be­hav­ioral dif­fer­ences are not only ac­cepted, but cel­e­brated.

In 2002, Mu­sic for Autism was co-founded in the UK by two mu­si­cians with an autis­tic son. The pro­gram quickly gained mo­men­tum from there, and in 2007 it was in­tro­duced in the US. To­day, in­ter­ac­tive, autism­friendly con­certs are held reg­u­larly in New York City, Wash­ing­ton DC, Los An­ge­les, and Hous­ton, and the pro­gram is ex­pected to ex­pand within those cities as well as new cities to con­nect with more fam­i­lies touched with autism.

The con­certs fea­ture lo­cal, pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians, which have in­cluded Tony Award win­ners and Grammy nom­i­nees. The artists go through thor­ough train­ing with artist co­or­di­na­tor Ryan Gard­ner to en­sure ev­ery­one has a safe and fun ex­pe­ri­ence. This al­lows autis­tic chil- dren to ex­pe­ri­ence mu­sic that could be heard at a con­cert hall, but in an en­vi­ron­ment where any re­sponse to the mu­sic is wel­come—from sit­ting qui­etly and lis­ten­ing, to get­ting up and danc­ing, or even tak­ing a seat right next to the mu­si­cians.

Re­search has found that mu­sic is some­thing that autis­tic chil­dren have in com­mon with oth­ers, as mu­sic is pro­cessed sim­i­larly by those with ASD and those with typ­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to El­iz­a­beth San­tiso, CEO, “the goal of Mu­sic for Autism is to ex­pose those with autism and their fam­i­lies to high qual­ity, pro­fes­sion­ally per­formed mu­sic in an en­vi­ron­ment where in­di­vid­ual dif­fer­ences are cel­e­brated and where no one will be em­bar­rassed.” The con­certs are a way for those with autism to be able to process mu­sic like ev­ery­one else and ex­pe­ri­ence it in their own unique way with­out judg­ment.

The hour-long con­certs are held in three phases: con­cert time, con­duct­ing time, and per­cus­sion time. Con­cert time starts it off with the mu­si­cians play­ing and in­ter­act­ing with the au­di­ence and sug­gest­ing dif­fer­ent ways for the au­di­ence to in­ter­act with the mu­sic. Dur­ing con­duct­ing time, the mu­si­cians teach the au­di­ence how to con­duct and have the whole au­di­ence con­duct them to­gether or have a few par­tic­i­pants take turns con­duct­ing. The show ends with the most in­ter­ac­tive por­tion of the con­cert, per­cus­sion time. Soft per­cus­sion in­stru­ments are passed out to au­di­ence mem­bers, and they are en­cour­aged to play along or “soft clap” (pat their knees) to the mu­sic. The dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the con­certs keep the au­di­ence en­gaged through the whole show.

Not only are per­for­mances fun for all, they are also free. All one has to do is RSVP to the con­cert they would like to at­tend and show up. This makes Mu­sic for Autism con­certs avail­able to any­one, re­gard­less of so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus.

The con­certs are an amaz­ing ven­ture for mu­si­cians and au­di­ence mem­bers alike. They are def­i­nitely fun for vol­un­teers, but San­tiso has also heard many sto­ries of “how they find them­selves be­com­ing less judg­men­tal and less quick to stig­ma­tize in­di­vid­u­als who ap­pear to be dis­play­ing odd be­hav­iors.” The mu­si­cians’ pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences and at­ti­tudes lend to the wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment ex­pe­ri­enced by par­ents and chil­dren. Jen­nifer Franklin, who brought her 13-year-old daugh­ter to a con­cert, said “The mu­sic was spec­tac­u­lar, of course, but even more mean­ing­ful were the open-hearted at­ti­tudes of the per­form­ers and the vol­un­teers. It was a de­light to see how much all of the chil­dren and par­ents were en­joy­ing them­selves as a fam­ily.”

Learn more about Mu­sic for Autism at: mu­sic­forautism.org.

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