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Music Makes the Difference

November 14, 2011 3 comments

This post is by  Phillip Hain, the West Region Director for Autism Speaks.

Ever since my 19 year old son, Andrew, was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of 3½, I’ve learned—and shared this sentiment with other parents—that we measure success and milestones on a different chart.  I had recently one at the Love Ride, an annual motorcycle event that for 28 years has raised money for various children’s causes.  Autism Speaks was fortunate to be the beneficiary for the 2nd consecutive year.

A traffic accident on the freeway caused a major delay getting to the ride’s endpoint and the young man scheduled to sing the national anthem was stuck in traffic.  It quickly became apparent he wouldn’t make it in time, even while we were already stretching the program as much as we could.  I had this idea that made me feel like the stage manager in an old Hollywood musical movie: Andrew could go on in his place!   He loves to sing, has done the national anthem before at one of our Walk Now for Autism Speaks events, has no fear of performing before a crowd, and definitely enjoys being the center of attention.

When I presented him with the idea there was a big surprising response: he didn’t want to do it.

I was really shocked and asked him why and his response had all the indications of being a teenager rather than anything borne out of genuine fear or stage fright.  He said, “I’m more into singing pop music now.  That doesn’t interest me.”  I was simultaneously amused and annoyed so I just tried to reason with him, explaining that he would be doing a big favor because they really needed someone.  The next few minutes were a series of him partially agreeing, then changing his mind, my continued pleading mixed with patience, until he finally said, “Ok, I’ll do it.”  I wanted to make sure he was comfortable and he said yes.

When he strode onto the stage, you would have thought he was a pro.  He started singing and two lines into the song, he broke for a moment to say, “Everybody join me.”  Talk about working the crowd for maximum effect!  He finished the song to the sound of rousing applause and cheers.  (I later read on a blog post about the event that his performance was the highlight of the afternoon.)  He was justifiably proud and said, “I’m glad I did it.  I made the right decision.”

Many kids—and adults— with autism have an affinity for music and other arts.  It calms them and provides the opportunity to express themselves in creative ways, and breaks the stereotype of children completely locked in their own world and unable to emerge.  That was certainly confirmed in the Emmy-winning documentary “Autism: The Musical.”

It is with that spirit which inspired our Los Angeles chapter to create an event rooted in music which we are calling the  Blue Tie-Blue Jean Ball.  It will be a fun, casual, anything-but-boring evening to celebrate music and lift our souls at the House of Blues Los Angeles on December 1.  Guess? Jeans has signed on to be our presenting sponsor.  We’re fortunate that the incredible Sarah McLachlan has agreed to perform as the headliner at our inaugural show.  A few more special guests have strongly hinted that they will drop by for the festivities.

We’re also honoring a fantastic rock music photographer named Rob Shanahan, who has taken some absolutely stunning pictures of the biggest names in the industry.  Some of his subjects include Sting, Dave Navarro, Sheila E. and Barry Manilow.  And the foreword to Rob’s new book, Volume 1, was written by Ringo Starr.  It doesn’t get more impressive than that.  Rob’s work will be on display that night and he’ll also be signing books.  You can get a sneak peek at his website www.robshanahan.com.

So, if you live in the Los Angeles area, or just made the snap decision to be here December 1, you will treat yourself to an amazing night.  And if you have friends or relatives nearby, make sure they plan to attend.   You don’t want to be the one who hears them complain, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The event website is http://events.autismspeaks.org/bluetie.

Check out this great video by CelebrityWire here!

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