CSU student organizes concert for autistic children

Columbus State University student Ama Trear wanted to hold a children's concert with no rules. Kids could clap their hands, sing, yell, dance, run around the room or just sit and listen.

Her idea for an "interactive" concert is part of her Miss Georgia platform on music and autism and was inspired by her 8-year-old nephew, Christian, who was diagnosed last summer. Christian sometimes has trouble concentrating, until he sits down at a piano, she said.

"You couldn't get him to concentrate, but if you set a timer and said, 'Christian you have to keep playing until that timer goes off,' he would sit there and play for 30 or 40 minutes," she said.

Trear, who is majoring in vocal performance, gathered a few other students from CSU's Schwob School of Music to put together the concert. Students played classical and contemporary music, improvised on the piano and brought out some percussion instruments to let the kids play. Some kids sat still and listened while others yelled out or danced along, she said.

"One little boy, he was dancing the whole time -- I mean, really dancing," he said. "One kid we discovered, we think he might have perfect rhythm. He was over there tapping the whole time."

Trear said she strived to make the setting laid back and comfortable for families with autistic children. "It can be hard to find events that you can go to that the whole family can participate in," she said.

Lisa Jenkins, mother of 10-year-old George, who is autistic, said every autistic child will respond differently to situations and has different interests and talents. George cannot handle social situations, she said, but likes trains and airplanes and learned to like music after some music therapy sessions.

"Every one of these children have a gift. You have to see behind the autism to find it," she said.

Trear said she feels like music has help her learn more about Christian. He's started composing little 30-second tunes, she said. "That is a form of communication," she said. "You never know until you expose them to it. They can use it as a voice."

Jenkins said it's important for autistic children and their families to be able to try new things in a comfortable atmosphere. She mentioned activities like monthly Sensory Sensitive movies at Carmike -- movies with dim lighting, reduced movie sounds and looser behavior rules -- and socials for teens with autism at Waldrop Memorial Baptist Church.

"No one's staring. Everyone is like you. You feel like you're wanted," she said, adding. "We're now given an opportunity for families to try these things."

Trear said she plans to do another concert in the fall and she hopes, through her platform, to spark an interest in doing more music-related events for kids with autism.

"It's really simple to do, but it won't happen if the idea isn't out there," she said. "It brings a lot of simple joy to a lot of people."

Jenkins encouraged parents of children with autism to get involved with support groups, like the Autism Hope Center, to learn more about activities and help for families with autistic children.

"Get educated, get help and get out in public as much as you can," she said.

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469