I was nineteen and working part time at the Community Care Access Centre in the small town where I was attending university. My job as a personal support worker introduced me to a world far different than the lecture halls, crowded dorm rooms and boozy bars that made up most of my days. The six young adults, split evenly among men and women, in my care for a few shifts a month taught me as much about life in those carefree years as did all my learning from those professors. My duties appeared on the surface to be simple: assist with basic activities for daily life, assist with the basic housekeeping of the apartment and be an assistant for outings and appointments. I was providing support to individuals with a variety of special needs, both physical and mental, and several were also on the autism spectrum. This was my first introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Despite reading the clinic notes, it’s not until we are on outings that I see for myself that some of the individuals in my care have unconventional reactions to our surroundings. The lights, noises and other stimuli of the overcrowded shopping mall paired with the buzzing toy display, pushy strangers and loud DJ, prove to be too much. A meltdown ensues.
Weeks later, I am introduced to the Snoezelen Room. This is a multi-sensory environment filled with lighting effects, shapes, textures, and soft music. Like being in the shopping mall, there is an abundance of stimuli, but this seems to be having the opposite effect. Complete calm.
I am quickly learning that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are remarkably unique. No sweeping generalizations can be made.
When I become a mother, this is even clearer to me as I meet other mothers whose children are on the spectrum. Their stories of motherhood stay with me. We have much in common, yet we are divided by a chasm that will never be bridged. They experience daily challenges that I do not. They must creatively find solutions to situations I will never confront. They must learn to navigate with their children in a world that is a minefield of stimuli.
But we all want the same things for our children. Happiness. Peace. A sense of calm. We want our children to be able to participate in the world around them. We want our children to be seen.
The arts have a way of bringing people together to creatively express and appreciate individuality. Xenia Concerts Inc. is changing the way that high quality music and art performances, presentations and educational programs are presented to those who might not have access to such events and activities due to physical or mental barriers.
Xenia Concerts has partnered with the Sony Centre to offer four accessible concerts that are specifically designed to appeal to, and be welcoming of children on the autism spectrum and their families. In traditional classical concert environments, patrons are expected to sit quietly in their own seat. At Xenia Concerts children can sit on their seats, on pillow or even the floor. If sitting with the collective audience doesn’t feel right, moving to a quiet corner isn’t given a second glance. Neither is dancing, should the mood strike.
It’s been many years since I worked as a personal support worker, and in those years, I realize there are few ties that bind us together, but when we do find them, we need to nurture them. Ella Fitzgerald, many years ago recognized one such tie and said it very simply, “Music is the universal language…it brings people closer together.”
The next Xenia Concert is coming up on November 26 at 11:00 a.m. with music by Oscar Hammerstein, Joni Mitchell, Hoagy Carmichael, and others. The talented jazz vocalist Laura Swankey and her band will present a program titled “The Changing Skies” that will use music to explore the sky and some of its heavenly inhabitants.
Purchase your ticket for $5 +HST per person and receive a $5 gift card to a popular retailer.
For more information about Xenia Concerts visit their website here.