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Rollins hosts concert catered to those with autism

Rollins is partnering up with an alumna and her non-profit to put on a performance designed for those on the spectrum. 

People on the autism spectrum will have a chance to experience free, live music in a welcoming environment, as Rollins hosts its third annual concert with a local non-profit on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in the Teidtke Concert Hall.

The concert is hosted by Sharing Harmony and Raising Possibilities (SHARP), a non-profit that offers musical events for people on the spectrum, and will feature Rollins students and faculty, as well as a variety of other groups.

Rollins alumna Aloma Bratek founded the event and the SHARP organization after she adopted a young boy on the spectrum. She was inspired to use music as a way to assist him. 

“I’m a children’s choir director, and I thought that if I could get a degree in music therapy than I could help him with communication,” said Bratek. 

Bratek said that “many children with autism have communication deficits. Music is quite often a motivation for them. It’s also a link to everyone.” Music can also help those on the autism spectrum express themselves. 

According to a video posted under the Department of Music’s Creative Collaborations page from a past concert, the atmosphere is informal and relaxed, which Bratek said is relieving to both the students and families. 

The songs featured in the concert range from classical pieces to Disney songs to popular mainstream songs. The music is easily identified by the families and kids. One example of the featured songs is “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid.” 

One of the most valued aspects of the concerts is the opportunity for families to enjoy live music without worrying about their family member with autism not being able to adapt to the social rules of a regular concert hall. 

SHARP’s concerts give “[autistic] individuals the opportunity…to be themselves without the judgement. So if there is a tick or a callout their not judged, because everybody in the room lives this,” said Bratek.

According to Bratek, those on the spectrum often express themselves verbally through the music. For example, when there is a build up or a crescendo, they verbalize how the music makes them feel through ticks or call-outs. While this is helpful for them in learning to express themselves, it can prevent them from going to an average concert. The SHARP concerts provide a space where those with autism are not judged for expressing themselves.

Parents were also grateful to be in an environment where their kids could be themselves. Dr. John Sinclair, chair, director, and John M. Tiedtke professor of music, said that after the first concert, he remembered, “a letter and a commentary from some of the families…that said [that] this is the first time [they] had ever been able to go to a concert with [their] child where [they] weren’t worried about what they did.”

The concerts not only allow people with autism to attend a live musical show, but also to practice social skills in a public area. Bratek said that the concerts can “increase communication by just saying ‘Welcome to the concert. How are You?’” thereby giving them a real-life opportunity to use [social skills] outside of therapy.” The concerts link real life to therapy.

Bratek started this tradition after she graduated from Rollins’ music program. She had to perform a recital, and she told Sinclair that she wanted to use her music degree for music therapy instead of performance. She asked him if her recital could be a concert for autism. 

Bratek  said she felt that this concert would be of great help to families that had children with autism, since she knows through personal experience how difficult taking a child with autism to certain events is. Sinclair agreed to allow her recital.

The first concert had clear benefits for both performers and viewers. Bratek said that the college students who played in the concert found the experience to be rewarding, and that they were content at the opportunity to “give back into somebody who can’t [usually] come to such events.”

The success of the first concert encouraged Bratek set up another concert and to start the non-profit organization SHARP.  It was only natural that Rollins and SHARP would form a partnership with one another. Bratek said that the Rollins “faculty is supportive, they want to give their time and talents to this event.”

SHARP hosts other concerts in many other locations. The goal is to bring the concerts into as many areas of the community as possible. Bratek would especially like to have SHARP host a concert at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. She said that accomplishing that would be a dream.

This year’s concert will take place on Saturday, Oct. 6 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Tiedtke Concert Hall. Although mainly designed for people with autism and their families, everyone is welcome to come. Admission is free for all.

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