It's not every day that kids get to sing and dance on stage with Broadway stars and performers – but thanks to our New Yorker of the Week, children with autism are getting that opportunity.
"When you walk into a Broadway show and there’s a highly emotional number, you can’t walk up on stage and hug one of performers," says Robert Accordino. "During a high volume dance number you can’t start dancing in the aisle as the performers are dancing on stage."
"Well at Music for Autism concerts," Accordino says, "all of that can happen."
And, thanks to Accordino, it happens several times a month.
A resident physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Accordino opened a branch of Music for Autism in New York City in 2007 while attending medical school.
The non-profit organization brings free, interactive concerts to individuals with autism and their families. The goal is to create an environment where no one feels ashamed or embarrassed during live musical performances.
Professional blue grass artists have volunteered their time, along with Latin, jazz, and flamenco performers – even Broadway stars.
"Anything we can do, we do to help these kids that can’t normally go to a play or a concert, and bring that to them," says Broadway performer Todd Buonopane. "I think that’s so special."
The kids and their parents agree.
The opportunity to enjoy music without being limited or constrained by social norms is exactly why these families return again and again.
"It’s hard for them to stay in their seat," explains Broadway casting director Marc Hirschfeld. "This way they can get up, they can dance, they can run, they can listen and enjoy it. And parents don’t have to worry about other parents around them. They don’t have to feel self-conscious."
Others hope the music is therapeutic.
"I want him to enjoy music and I want to see if maybe he can develop something within himself through music," says parent Christine Koch of her son.
"I continue to be greatly moved by the reactions that our families and volunteers and musicians have to these experiences," Accordino says.
And providing those experiences for children with autism and their families, is why Robert Accordino is our New Yorker of the Week.