Music for Autism concerts create safe, judgment-free fun

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Rob Nelson explores music for autism group (WABC)

This is certainly no ordinary concert.

The nonprofit Music for Autism uses song and dance to give autistic children and their parents not just a place to feel welcome, but a place to feel free.

"What you hear time and time again by these families is how isolating autism is, that there are so few experiences where these families feel welcome," said Dr. Robert Accordino.

In 2007, Accordino, who specializes in child psychiatry, brought "Music for Autism" from the United Kingdom to the United State. The group seeks top notch performers -- and in New York that means Broadway -- for its events, which are free for families thanks to donations.

"We break down the wall between audience members and performers, and that's very unique," said Accordino.

The program has spread to Houston, Los Angeles, Washington and across New York state, serving about 2,500 autistic children and their families every year. A study this year showed that 1 in every 68 children in the United States has some form of autism, a 30 percent increase from just two years ago.

"For parents and kids, (the events create) a safe space," said John Sugden, a parent of an autistic child. "They can do whatever they want. Nobody is looking at you. They're typical in this environment."

Stacy Nankoo, whose child also is autistic, said that because children with autism tend to lack socialization skills, a concert where they can interact with other children is important.

"Nobody is judging them. They're just walking and dancing and doing their own thing," she said.

The music transforms her son, she said. "He's always vibrant when he hears music or sees a piano. You see a different child when he sees a piano. It's the only thing where I really see him smile a lot."

Bethany Moore, a Broadway performer, said it is a great opportunity for children who don't normally get to go to a Broadway show. "It's so special ... when they get up and dance with you, and they get to get up and sing with you, it's so nice to give that back."

Accordino said that accessibility is key. "What we're saying at Music for Autism is that we want to expose this population to something that is a very high quality cultural event through live music."
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