For all the debate that surrounds autism, specifically the myriad of possible and still largely unknown causes, one of the things that may got lost in the conversation are autistic people themselves and their needs.
One person who isn’t just talking about it is Patricia Kayser. The Miami transplant and Ecuadorian native came to the U.S. a few years ago and in 2013 founded Autism and Music with the core mission “to help enhance the quality of life for people with autism through music interaction.”
It’s a subject very close to her heart. The initial reason Kayser moved to the states was to seek assistance and facilities for her autistic brother, Chris, who serves as her daily inspiration for this musical adventure. “He loves music. I realized that through music games and music activities, we were able to socialize a lot more. Connect with each other. I learned to understand him a lot more. It’s also a way to hang out.”
It all started one day, after watching her brother’s interactions with their cousin, a musician. Kayser, who had never played an instrument or sang professionally before, picked up a cheap guitar and began plucking at the strings around Chris. The bond was immediate and a brand new existence formed, the idea for Autism and Music planted in her mind.
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Once in Miami, she began crafting events that featured activities for both children and adults with special needs that continues to this day. “Basically we get together once a month at Wynwood Café. We’re there from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.. What we do is we invite children and adults with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy — any condition that they might have — we invite them and their family. We do a set of games, activities, and contests that they can do at their own pace that all involves music. We have some musicians that are volunteers that come out, friends of mine. We invite the kids to the front to sing a song so they can feel like they’re rockstars.”
Additionally, the kids get to play various instruments that range from drums to ukuleles. What’s most important to Kayser at these get-togethers is that everyone participates and feels involved. “I know that it’s hard to find a place where they can go and hangout and have a good time, feel respected and loved. They can have some snacks and get to know other people in the community in similar situations.”
Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of these hangouts is the price. Families and friends are all welcome to participate for free. Kayser recognizes the financial burden placed on families with special needs members. As such, she relies heavily on donations and volunteers including students from Miami-Dade Community College who join in on the festivities.
Because of the non-profit organization’s nature, she’s currently looking for more sponsors, even hosting cheese and wine open houses to facilitate such contacts. The fact of the matter is that it’s going to take plenty of charity from multiple sources to fulfill her other goals and one big, permanent dream.
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“The funds we get go to the hangouts, but there are other things we want to do. For example, we want to do our first autism acceptance concert, which will be different from the hangouts because there will actually be performances from people with special needs. We want to do that in November. Another thing we’re doing, once a year is we’re going to choose a non-profit organization in another country that supports autism. We’re going to come out to that country and we’re going to do some activities for that organization. This year we chose Ecuador and a non-profit called Autismo Ecuador. We’re doing our hangouts and some surf activities because we know some surfers there that want to do something for the kids. The idea is to spread awareness worldwide. We also have a vision to open an office and a music center which is a place that will offer music therapy. We want to grow big enough to have a farm with animals with music therapy outside in nature.”
Ultimately, if there’s one question or one misnomer that Kayser wants to answer, to dispel, it's the perception the general public has regarding autism.
“The number one thing for me, that shocks me and I love when people ask me: is autism an illness? And I say no, definitely not. The kids with autism are not sick. They just have a condition that’s a different perspective of life. It’s a different way of feeling and emotions and communication, but it’s definitely not a sickness.”
Autism & Music Hangout. 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 16 (and the third Saturday of every month) at Wynwood Cafe, 450 NW 27th St., Miami; 305-576-1105; wynwoodwarehouseproject.com. The event is free.