BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — Acoustics for Autism was originally started to raise funds for families who needed extra financial support to access resources for autism spectrum disorder.
The small event, which began at The Village Idiot in 2008, has grown into one of the largest, single-day, free music festivals in the country.
Thousands descend upon Conant Street and the rest of uptown Maumee on the first Sunday in March each year. Year after year, the attendees continue to break records in size and donations, but the size of the event doesn’t matter as long as the original heart of it is preserved.
“There’s this overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance from everybody,” said Nicole Khoury, founder of Acoustics for Autism.
That feeling of love and acceptance is what has kept many families, like Dee Dowling and her 25-year-old son Dan, coming back for more than a decade.
“We got involved probably 12 years ago. We had heard about it on Facebook – that they were having a benefit for autism,” Dee said. “It was pretty small back then; it was just in The Village Idiot.”
Dee had heard they were raising money for scholarships for children with autism spectrum disorder and their families, so they decided to apply.
“It was so nice to have them say yes. There was no disputing on what type of treatment you were looking for,” Dee said. “There is no one-size-fits-all treatment.”
For Dan, he enjoys horse therapy and working with dogs. The cost of attending things like this can quickly add up, costing almost as much as a mortgage payment each month, Dee said.
Keeping Dan involved in the things he loves to do is a priority, and funds from organizations like Project iAM – the nonprofit organization that Acoustics for Autism raises money for – are what helps Dan to continue his activities.
The Dowling family also likes to remain involved in the actual event. Dee and Dan go around each year collecting donations for the auction and raffles. They also put in the work on the day of the music festival, helping out with the silent auction and other areas.
“I do a lot with the silent auction, and Dan helps out, too. He stays there and does whatever he can – packs stuff up, gives things to people that win the auction,” Dee said. “We’re there for 10 hours that day. It’s a big day for us.”
Dan, who is non-verbal, is known to express his excitement for the big day in the weeks leading up to the event.
“Dan keeps pointing to all the logos on the shirts we have for Acoustics for Autism, he keeps pointing to all the logos we have around our house,” Dee said. “He knows it’s coming, and he goes to the calendar and points to what day it is. He knows he will see Nicole and get to dance.”
Dee said Dan will be the person dancing contentedly in circles in front of the stage on Sunday, March 6.
The music that gets people up and dancing just like Dan, is integral to the success of the event. With 84 bands and eight stages, Acoustics for Autism has continued to grow each year, and the music helps people of all ages bond and enjoy themselves.
“The association with music is huge and very therapeutic,” Khoury said. “I think parents can see a different side of their kids sometimes when they see the attention that they give to the music, and we want everybody to feel a part of that.”
Those who want to enjoy the music and support the cause may attend the free festival on Sunday, March 6 from noon to 2:00 a.m. in uptown Maumee. A portion of Conant Street and the surrounding area will be blocked off, making it a larger event than in previous years.
More information can be found on the website, acousticsforautism.com. The fun will include a wide variety of music, food and fundraising activities.