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Autistic Kids Rock! Rock Autism’s Inaugural Festival Benefits First-Ever Technology Training Session.

Rock Autism and Squeaky Wheel have joined forces to unleash Rock Autism’s Character Animation Program in Squeaky Wheel’s Main Street studio space. This newly created Character Animation Program works to help autistic youth gain the knowledge and technical ability to develop functional skills in the creative arts. Rock Autism is a non-profit organization empowering autistic youth and young adults with the skills to establish a career in the creative arts.

“We at Squeaky Wheel were thrilled for the opportunity to work with Rock Autism and Kaleida to bring this program to life. We believe in providing access to expression through media arts to everyone,” said Kevin Kline – Director of Education for Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center. “The ability to connect with all populations and give them a platform and confidence to create is really what we love to do. Everyone involved in this program is passionate about what the arts can do for the community.”

“My son loved it,” extolled Phil Culliton, game developer and father of a Rock Autism student. “The class was fantastic! My son got plenty of care and support, and a solid introduction to a difficult skill. I worked with animators as a game developer and I’m impressed with what the kids learned in just 5 weeks.”

Rock Autism’s partnership with Squeaky Wheel and the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Center at Oishei Children’s Hospital offers youngsters on the autism spectrum access to industry-level software and technology that can assist them in building employability skills.

The character animation program gives young people with autism an opportunity to learn new technology, express themselves through art, make friends, build self-confidence and have fun in a supportive group setting. Jana Mertz, MBA, Program Coordinator, for The Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Center stated, “At Oishei Children’s Hospital, we hope the exposure and experience with these media programs will spark creativity, enhance communication skills, and possibly lead to an interest or career in the arts.”

A significant element of the Rock Autism Program is The Rock Autism Festival. Early on, a decision was made to donate the inaugural festival’s proceeds to the “first of its kind” tech program for those on the autism spectrum. “It’s pretty amazing for a first-year festival to generate enough money that it can actually directly invest in its mission to serve the autistic community,” commented Gabriel Bialkowski, CEO of SenSu Music, the primary partner and promoter of the Rock Autism festival. “It is a proud moment for me and my team.”

Rock Autism held the music festival this past summer in Ellicottville to promote awareness about the severe lack of opportunities for members within the autism community. Rock Autism founder, Max Muscato, is a musician who witnessed his brother Sonny’s long and tragic struggle with autism. Sonny, without a job or job prospects, and no therapy to support him, fell into a dangerous pattern of behavior, taking up with the wrong crowd and self-medicating with drugs. Sonny did not receive the professional support he needed, which is the driving motivator that inspired Max to create these important initiatives. Ultimately, Sonny realized that with help from his brother, and his own love of music (and musical ability), he could manage and sustain a rewarding lifestyle.

“Rock Autism would like to meet the severe need of autistic men and women like Sonny, who have no career direction and no resources to elevate themselves in society,” said Max.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for my son to learn new technology that can enhance his creativity,” stated Sarah Walsh, a parent of a Rock Autism student. “The program engages individuals living on the autism spectrum who are struggling to gain employment.” Alea Conte, Executive Director of Rock Autism agreed by saying, “Our students were very fortunate to have such an understanding and capable instructor in Dan Pisari, from Squeaky Wheel. He brought the best out of the students.”

“When youngsters diagnosed with autism turn 18 or 21, they’re cut-off from creative art services. There’s nowhere for them to go,” stated Max. “Rock Autism is shining the spotlight on autism and raising funds to develop, support and grow local music, film and arts programs that serve youth and adults on the spectrum.”

People don’t make fun of me in music. They don’t hurt me. I feel like I can do anything.

“My favorite thing about Rock Autism was able to draw and animate characters,” said Rock Autism student Noel Cruz.

““Rock Autism is awesome! Music makes me feel good and free,” commented Sonny. “People don’t make fun of me in music. They don’t hurt me. I feel like I can do anything.”

Rock Autism is a nonprofit organization with a mission to serve youth and adults living with autism in Western New York. Proceeds from the festival went directly to the Rock Autism Character Animation Program to cover the costs of technology and career focused five-week instruction and training.

Lead image: Sonny and Dan Parisi

Written by Mark Lazzara

Mark Lazzara

I have a passion for helping my fellow Western New Yorkers and advance the great things that are going on in this region. Buffalo Rising is a great booster and it’s a blast writing and contributing to BR about positive happenings in our neck of the woods. I appreciate the help I’ve received over the years from organizations and people who share my passion and supported me in efforts that put thousands of people to work and resulted in a community give back of more than $115M to Buffalo’s neediest during my days at the helm of AmeriCorps.

I’m especially grateful for the opportunities that enabled me to help cities devastated by Hurricane Katrina and rebuild more than 700 family homes that were destroyed. Back at home, I was able to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience as a coordinator for ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition where we were able to repair, beautify and upgrade homes for an entire neighborhood on Buffalo’s Westside. Other projects close to my heart include a collaboration with Sail Buffalo to build the Cazenovia Boating Center at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, and my annual Christmas season time is spent at Buffalo’s treasure, the Broadway Market, playing Santa Clause.

In my other life, I am a workforce development, business, marketing, public relations and fundraising professional. Earned a M.S. Human Service Management from Buffalo State, and enjoy my family life that includes four amazing grandchildren!

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