In February 2001 OSJ (formerly Orchestra of St John?s) pioneered concerts for children with autism and their families by performing a pair of concerts in London under the banner ?Music for Autism?, writes Samantha Lodge.
The concerts were the brainchild of OSJ?s Artistic Director, John Lubbock, whose eight-year-old son is autistic, and provided a rare opportunity for families with autistic children to go out together to an event that is carefully targeted to their specific needs. One mother told us that the concerts had provided her with the first opportunity to take the whole family out together since her eight year-old autistic son?s birth! ?Apart from the very enjoyable music and good-humoured orchestra, it was a huge pleasure to be somewhere where we truly felt all the members of our family were welcome and made to feel special for the afternoon.?

The format is informal, with families sitting round tables supplied with paper, pencils and puzzles for the children to play with during the concert. The hall is decorated with Thomas the Tank Engine posters, providing the autistic children and their siblings with familiar and friendly faces. Dietary needs are taken into consideration (many autistic children have gluten-free diets) and suitable refreshments are provided. The music includes children?s favourites and popular classics, and a participative session encourages families to join in with the Orchestra on a range of percussion instruments. At the front of the hall a space is left free for the children to dance and move around, and for those who find it all a little overwhelming a quiet room is provided.

The concerts have been a success since the launch. We repeated them in December 2001 and again in March this year, and the tickets for each event ?sold out? (tickets were free of charge) within days. What has been particularly exciting has been the level of support for the project that we have attracted from corporate partners. JP Morgan Chase has provided the venue and refreshments, AstraZeneca has made a generous donation twice and we have received Thomas the Tank Engine posters and activity sheets from Gullane Entertainment. We have also been successful in raising funds from charitable trusts and individuals - everyone?s generosity has been overwhelming.

Samantha Lodge is Marketing & Projects Director at OSJ. t: 020 8857 8579;