Reaching out to children with autism and their families, Virginia Tech will sponsor a musical event on Saturday at the Moss Arts Center on campus.

The SAFE Autism Friendly Children’s Music Concert will feature softened acoustics and lighting, social cues for the audience, and an instrument “petting zoo” for children, said Amy Azano, an assistant professor of education and affiliate faculty member with the university’s Center for Autism Research.

“Autism is often characterized by sensory challenges and related anxiety, so attending a concert might seem out of reach,” Azano said. “This program will give families the opportunity to attend a music concert designed for children with those challenges.”

The free public concert will be held at 10:30 a.m. in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Moss Arts Center’s Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall. 

Tours of the performance space will be available to children prior to the concert to help alleviate any anxiety associated with visiting a new and unfamiliar space. Doors open at 10 a.m. The concert will last about a half hour. Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

The concert is one in a series of programs organized by SAFE — Supporting Autism Friendly Events. Others have been SAFE Santa at the New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg, bowling for families, and a “trunk or treat” Halloween outing.

“The goal is to partner with the community to give greater access to venues and events for people with autism,” Azano said. “We are thrilled and humbled that so many folks have given so much of their time and efforts for this purpose.”

Organizers of the children’s concert include Associate Professor Polly Middleton, associate director of athletic bands at Virginia Tech, who will lead a special performance by students in the School of Performing Arts; and Jon Catherwood-Ginn, manager of partnerships and engagement at the Center of the Arts.

"This is an opportunity for our students to provide a concert experience for an audience that might otherwise not enjoy a live concert,” Middleton said. Music education undergraduates and graduate students will also be on hand to help concert goers engage with the music. Opportunities to perform with the percussion section, as well as dancing to the music are among the planned activities.

Musical selections for the concert were determined by length of each piece, tempo and style, and accessibility and familiarity to the targeted audience.

Montgomery County Public Schools personnel Julie Ligon, supervisor of special education, preschool and elementary; and Kathleen Wright, lead speech therapist, are also collaborating with this project.



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