Teen with autism is a gifted timpanist

Standing in a tuxedo in a Penfield High School hallway on Friday night, Dennis “D.J.” O’Keefe sways back and forth.

His head cocks up and down between sentences, and he fiddles with his lapel as he talks. His speech — quick and clear at times, choppy at others — is often interrupted by a nervous clearing of his throat.

O’Keefe was diagnosed with autism shortly after his second birthday. The Penfield High School senior has faced his share of resulting adversity, and has plenty of challenges ahead of him as he prepares to enter college and life beyond.

But if you whistle a tune, he can name every single note.

And in the 32 years that Jim Doser has taught music in the Penfield Central School District, O’Keefe is the most talented timpani player he’s ever had.

“As a timpanist, he’s the best ever,” said Doser. “He has a future in music as much as anyone else does. We’ve all been encouraging him to go this route.”

O’Keefe, 18, is no savant. He’s got some innate talents, for sure — the most impressive being his ability to identify the music note of any sound that’s played for him, a trait commonly called perfect pitch.

But when he’s in front of his percussion instruments in the school music room, or the pillows he sets up as makeshift drums in his bedroom at home, he’s just another teenager trying to hone his musical skills.

“Two hours, Monday through Friday,” he said.

The combination of talent and tenacity has led to some substantial opportunities for the teenager. He’s won scholarships to summer music camps and practices with some of the best percussionists in Rochester.

via Penfield teen rises above autism as a gifted timpanist | democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle.

Boston Conservatory program for children with autism helps music teachers, too

When Rhoda Bernard, Ed.M.’99, Ed.D.’04, heard a recording of an autistic teenager singing the National Anthem before a Red Sox game at Fenway Park this past summer, she was beaming with pride.

The girl was one of nearly 25 children with autism enrolled in the Boston Conservatory’s Students on the Autism Spectrum program where Bernard, as chair of the music education department, equips the next generation of music teachers with tools for educating all children equally.

“The best thing I can do is prepare the strongest generation of music teachers as they go off and teach in a program and create quality music education that advocates for the field,” Bernard says, noting that an outstanding music teacher can do terrific things for children, even those with autism.

via Music to Their Ears: Rhoda Bernard, Ed.M.’99, Ed.D.’04 – News Features & Releases.

Documentary celebrates Miami band of people with disabilities

The documentary For Once in My Life features Florida’s Spirit of Goodwill Band and its musicians and singers, all of whom have disabilities, including autism and Down syndrome.

If you didn’t get to see this documentary about the remarkable power of music in the band members’ lives at a film festival or community screening, you’re in luck. PBS will show For Once in My Life on Feb. 1. Check the PBS For Once in My Life web page for local listings.

The movie also has an awesome soundtrack, available on the For Once in My Life website.

Do you have the post-holiday season doldrums? For an uplifting experience, attend the Community Cinema Tuesday evening and view, “For Once in My Life.” This is a film about 29 unlikely people who form a band. Why “unlikely?” Because they all have disabilities ranging from autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy blindness, to behavioral disorders.

If you think of Goodwill as just a place to donate and purchase used clothing and goods, this movie will have you think again. Goodwill Industries includes a manufacturing plant where people of all backgrounds and experience are given a chance to become independent and gain self-respect. Whether sewing American flags or pockets for military garments, the handicapped work hard. Watching a woman deftly stitching a pocket using her only hand is impressive. She looks up, smiles and says, “I have magic fingers.”

The Spirit of Goodwill Band was formed at Goodwill Industries of South Florida in 1981 to encourage social and recreational skills with people who are handicapped. Some of the 29 people had never played an instrument before, never stood up in front of an audience. But, the band was open to everyone. All had one thing in common: A shared love of music and a dream to share their music with the world and prove a disability would not prevent them from performing.

via COMMUNITY CINEMA: ‘For Once in My Life’ an ‘uplifting experience’ | GJFreePress.com.

For autistic boy, a Bocelli concert in Boston

Tenor Andrea Bocelli gave three front-row seats to his show in Boston to a 10-year-old with autism who is a huge fan of the opera star. George Maroun III is non-verbal, but all you have to do is watch him grin and sway in his seat to see how much he loved the Bocelli concert.

BOSTON — An opera superstar, tenor Andrea Bocelli, took center stage at the TD Garden Sunday night in a performance many in the audience will likely never forget.

But it’s what happened backstage with a very special fan of the star that stole the show.

The boy, a 10-year-old with autism, has always felt a special connection with Bocelli and for the Amherst New Hampshire native, and his dreams came true when he got to see the star in person.

George Maroun III, a fourth-grader, has listened to Bocelli every day of his life. He is diagnosed as autistic, non-verbal, and he has never said a single word in his life, not even “mom” or “dad,” but Bocelli has helped him communicate and thrive.

Sunday night, he suited up in a tuxedo and was allowed to stay up late on a school night to attend the Bocelli concert in Boston.

His mother said Bocelli’s music has been magic in the child’s life.

via For Autistic Boy, Opera Is Dream Come True – Most Popular News Story – WCVB Boston.

Piano teacher for students with autism, other disabilities

Mathew Aucott, who has high functional autism and achondroplastic dwarfism, has been taking piano lessons at Richard Studios for two years. His piano teacher says he has prodigy-level talent.

Richard DeKarski, 52, instructor and owner of the Richard Studios piano studio in Northfield, believes that the best way to teach a child to make music is to become part of their world.

“I want to get in their mind and cater to their needs,” said DeKarski, of the Bargaintown section of Egg Harbor Township. “I’ve taught children that teachers refused to take because they just didn’t believe they could teach them.”

DeKarski specializes in teaching students with disabilities. His students’ conditions range from Asperger’s syndrome to dwarfism to blindness. He said the key to his teaching method is to accommodate his students’ individual needs and to get to know each child on a personal basis.

via Piano students leave their disabilities at door of Northfield’s Richard Studios – pressofAtlanticCity.com.

Autistic kids sing, roar in ‘Jungle Book’ musical


The La Quinta High School Theatre was filled with dancing and singing monkeys, elephants, tigers and other wild animals last weekend.

The Coachella Valley Autism Society, the local chapter of the Autism Society of America, performed Disney’s “The Jungle Book” Saturday and Sunday.

The musical theater class was formed in February as part of the society’s social recreation program, said Carolyn Russom, resource coordinator,

via Autistic kids sing, roar in ‘Jungle Book’ musical | mydesert.com | The Desert Sun.

The right note: Music a key connector for autistic kids

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Making music isn’t just fun and games for Hudson and Memphis Hueneke.

Strumming a guitar, blowing train whistles and listening to lyrics have helped the brothers learn to work together, stay on task, express themselves and follow instructions.

The skills are paramount for all preschoolers, but are especially important for the brothers. Memphis, 3, was diagnosed with autism a year ago, and doctors believe that Hudson, 2, also may be demonstrating traits of the developmental disorder.

via The right note: Music a key connector for autistic kids.

Music aids Alzheimer’s patients remember new information

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are better able to remember new verbal information when it is provided in the context of music even when compared to healthy, older adults.

The findings, which currently appear on-line in Neuropsychologia, offer possible applications in treating and caring for patients with AD. AD, the most common form of dementia, is characterized by a general, progressive decline in cognitive function that typically presents first as impaired episodic memory. The onset and rate of this decline tends to vary across cognitive domains, and some functions may be preferentially spared in patients with AD.

via Music aids Alzheimer’s patients in remembering new information | e! Science News.

‘Chords for Kids’ lets kids with autism experience a live classical concert

At most classical music concerts, audiences are expected to be reverentially silent and still – a near impossibility for autistic kids who frequently have sensory issues and can’t fully control their speech or movement.

But noisemakers and wigglers are more than welcome at “Chords for Kids,” a free concert for families with autistic or special needs children. It’s performed by the North Central College student ensemble Concert Winds at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville.

“It was a just a group of friends with an idea,” said concert planner and “Chords for Kids” co-founder Susan Maynes of St. Charles.

After learning about a combined classical and operatic concert for autistic children staged in Salt Lake City by Utah Symphony-Utah Opera (which started annual autism concerts back in 2003), Maynes was inspired to try and do something similar locally.

“It was very much a fledgling, grass-roots movement,” said Jamie Walden-Mather of St. Charles, who is also an adjunct professor at North Central College. “This was a niche that really needed to be filled.”

via Daily Herald | ‘Chords for Kids’ lets kids with autism experience a live classical concert.

Jackson Brown, Dar Williams and others sing for autism

Jackson Brown, Dar Williams, Marshall Crenshaw, Jonatha Brooke and other singer-songwriters will appear on “Songs of the Spectrum” — a new fundraising album of songs about autism.

The songs on the album, which will be released April 6, are collaborations between John O’Neil, a New York Times editor whose 2004 essay about his autistic son was part of a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series, and Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes of the indie-pop band The Cucumbers.

The the website AllAccess.com:

An impressive collection of singer-songwriters are banding together to support AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH in APRIL through “Songs of the Spectrum,” an album of original songs about autism. The project is being released on TUESDAY, APRIL 6th and the proceeds will benefit SingSOS, a new nonprofit organization formed to enlist the power of music to spread the word about autism.


via Artists Sing For Autism | AllAccess.com.