The Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine hosted a musical showcase highlighting the talents of 18 extraordinary young people with autism. Held on March 28, 2017, the School of Medicine’s Dematteis Family Atrium turned concert hall was packed with nearly 175 attendees, including medical students, faculty, healthcare professionals, in addition to family and friends of performers.
The concert opened with three numbers from a six-piece band, followed by thirteen soloists. A chorus of five vocalists closed the program singing Best Day of My Life by American Authors and With a Little Help from My Friends by the Beatles.
“It was heartwarming to see how much they all enjoyed performing,” said fourth-year medical student, Samuel Alpern. “Autism just happened to be a diagnosis that they had—it didn’t define them—rather they enjoyed music and performing.”
The performers—ages 14-26 and all on the autism spectrum—varied greatly in their abilities and talents. Among them was Dean Franciotti, age 26 and born blind, who has been playing piano and keyboard for more than 15 years. He delighted the audience with a perfect rendition of In My Life by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. There was also vocalist and pianist, Joseph “Joey” Cavanagh, 14, performed Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, as well as Alex Schneider, 26, non-verbal yet can finish a marathon in under 3 hours, who played Sonata Pathetique by Beethoven.
Following the performance was a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Anna Krevskaya, a physician of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. Said Dr. Krevskaya, “As clinicians, we tend to focus on weaknesses and limitations of autism, such as poor language or social skills, or medical co-morbidities, [but] we are less adept at inquiring about child’s strengths and talents, which are just as important to develop and nurture.”
Also joining the talk were Kimberly Gilbert, PhD, director of the Diagnostic and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Hofstra University, and Stephen Shore, Ed, clinical assistant professor at Adelphi University. Dr. Shore, a musician and also on the autism spectrum, teaches and lectures about autism around the world. He emphasized the importance of providing programs and opportunities where we celebrate the abilities of individuals with autism.
Valerie Colvecchio, regional coordinator of Parent to Parent of NYS and mother of a performer at the event, agreed to the need for more positive promotion of what people with autism can do.
“As parents of special needs children, we feel bad about what our kids cannot do—the sports they don’t play, the parties they’re not invited to, the friends they don’t have,” explained Ms. Colvecchio. “Finally it was ‘me’ who had something to brag about—it was a wonderful feeling and one of the best days of [my son’s] life.”
For more information about the Osler Society at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, contact Lisa Martin, JD, program manager, Humanities in Medicine Program, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 516-463-7389. Online, please visit Humanities in Medicine Program