Saturday, July 26, 2008

Show challenges autistic stereotypes


Take one mother.

Add one daughter with autistic spectrum disorder.

Add a dash of music, a pinch of melody and generous heapings of passion and inspiration.

Mix well and you've got "KiSara."

Pronounced "kee'-SA'-ra," the mother/daughter singing duo of Kim Souch and Sara Sobey graced Our Friendship Centre in Lively on Wednesday afternoon.

The audience of more than 100, including clients and caregivers from hosts Community Living Greater Sudbury, as well as other local agencies, gave KiSara a warm and receptive welcome.

Dancing, stamping their feet and swaying throughout the concert, some audience members clapped and cheered as Souch and 19-year-old Sobey sang an Elvis tune from the Disney film "Lilo and Stitch" -- one of Sobey's favourite movies.

KiSara also performed some of Souch's own songs, including "Possibilities" and "Like Mother, Like Daughter."

Souch spoke to The Star about the message she hopes the music transcends to all parents and families of children with autistic spectrum disorder, and the importance of celebrating abilities and talents.

"There's too much focus on "disabilities," Souch said.

"You have so much help assessing what's wrong. Our song, 'Possibilities,' focuses on talents you can build on.

"I've been a musician for many years," Souch said. "Sara's very musical. She literally sang before she spoke."

When Sobey was three years old, her mother began to notice something different about her.

"She seemed disconnected," she recalls. "It was hard to peg down as to what it was and you go through the whole cycle."

Souch said her daughter was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, more commonly known as autism, three years later.

At age 8, Sobey took to the stage, performing in school concerts. Since she was 12, she has been accompanying her mother in performances for audiences whose appreciative members offer nothing but compliments and praise.

Souch, who helped form the Huron Perth Chapter of Autism Ontario located near her Seaforth, Ont., home, said she learned everything she could about autism and how and why it occurs.

She says autism creates an atmosphere of hyper-sensitivity within the child, and that everything surrounding him or her is felt at maximum volume. She said the condition not only affects sound, but can also result in a visual "overload."

For example, a child might claim to see "particles of air."

She said society and the medical profession have come a long way from the days autism was referred to as "The cold-parent syndrome."

Because of these deep-rooted and unfounded diagnoses, Souch emphasized how important it is for parents and families to turn their experience with autism into a recipe for hope and celebration.

Sudbury's visit was part of the final leg of their "Kaleidoscope Ride" tour, which took KiSara -- accompanied by Talia Williamson on bass, Brian Mole on drums and Roger Williamson on lead guitar -- to cities such as New Westminster, B. C., Calgary and Thunder Bay.

Sara, whose rendition of "Over the Rainbow" garnered a standing ovation, was happy to talk about the music she listens to when she's not performing.

"Just about anything," she said, smiling as she clutched her treasured Disney DVDs in her hand.

She shook her head and added, "Except rap and death metal."

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