Outdoors on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Santana Row in San Jose, the School of Rock house band played to shoppers strolling by and diners at sidewalk cafe tables. Eight-year-old Skylar Starling from Fremont and her nine-year-old friend Rhianna Taylor from San Jose, however, weren’t listening to the music. They were focused on a task designed to make them aware of the physical limitations that autistic children may face.
They put bulky, padded oven mitts on both hands. Then they struggled to pull t-shirts over their heads. It took a few minutes, but they finally succeeded at the tricky task. Next, mitts still on, they buckled belts around their waists. Last, they did their best to put together a jigsaw puzzle.
“It was really hard!” said Taylor.
“That was incredibly hard!” said Starling.
Neither girl knew what autism is, so they listened attentively to the explanation of Pacific Autism Center for Education (PACE) volunteer Eva Rian, a junior at St. Francis High School, Mountain View. Rian explained that autistic kids sometimes have trouble communicating and relating socially and that the fine motor skills needed for tasks such as putting on a t-shirt, may be difficult for them.
Rian is a member of the Youth Leadership Committee (YLC) of PACE. And on April 16, YLC members, who come from eight Bay Area high schools, had organized “Light It Up Blue,” a free concert held at Santana Row to raise awareness about autism.
All the musicians on the noon to 4 p.m. concert program were high school age or younger. As well as the School of Rock San Jose, participating groups included the Monta Vista Jazz Band, Cymbalize, the Drought and Monta Vista Tri-M.
“PACE gives youth a chance to do something about autism other than just giving money,” said Rian, whose eight-year-old brother has autism, which is a neuro-developmental disability that can respond to early intervention.
Founded in 1989, PACE is a nonprofit organization serving autistic children and their families, enhancing their lives “through innovation, exceptional education and compassionate care.” One in 79 children in California has autism.
PACE headquarters are in Santa Clara, where it operates a school for six- to 22-year-olds with moderate to severe autism, with emphasis on non-verbal students. PACE also provides services for toddlers to 12-year-olds: early intervention and school-age programs in Redwood City and early intervention and preschool programs in San Jose. PACE owns and operates two children’s and four adult group homes in the South Bay.
Santana Row shoppers enjoying the afternoon concert last Saturday, dropped tips in donation boxes, and Pasta Pomodoro donated 20 percent of each diner’s bill to PACE. The 2015 “Light It Up Blue” concert raised about $750 for PACE programs and services.
“We’re very thankful to be able to perform at Santana Row and raise awareness to the community here through a fun event organized by high school students,” said Rachel Palmer, PACE Annual Fund Manager. “It’s one of my favorite events because it’s so community based. It’s cool!”
PACE’s 8th Annual Golf Classic will be held May 20 at Cinnabar Hllls, San Jose. Visit www.pacificautism.org to learn more about autism and for information about PACE programs and events. April is national autism awareness month.