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Autism awareness is project dear to heart of singer Al Holland


al-holland-performs-09Al Holland performed at last Monday night’s T.G.I.M. screenings, and as is his way, he created a nostalgic moment through his back and forth sing-a-long with the audience. With host Eric Raddatz’s encouragement, Al touted a project that is near and dear to his heart. That’s autism awareness. He participates annually in the Night of Autism Awareness at the Charlotte Cultural Center, which benefits Charlotte County Public School programs for children with autism. There’s another event scheduled for 2017.

al-holland-performs-07Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have al-holland-performs-02different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children or adults with ASD might:

  • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
  • al-holland-performs-04not look at objects when another person points at them
  • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  • avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
  • al-holland-performs-08appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
  • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
  • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
  • repeat actions over and over again
  • al-holland-performs-10have trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
  • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)

The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted al-holland-performs-11to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less. Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis. ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced al-holland-performs-12professional can be considered very reliable.1 However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with ASD might not get the early help they need.

Holland’s involvement with the Night of Autism Awareness dates back to 2013, when the event helped fund a sensory room at Kingsway Elementary School through his connection with al-holland-performs-06the Charlotte Local Education Foundation, or CLEF, the fundraising arm of Charlotte public schools. The event has evolved since the inaugural concert. The 2014 and 2015 concerts featured the themes of Motown and music from the ’60s and ’70s. Last year’s theme was “Dancing through the Decades.” Raddatz served as master of ceremonies al-holland-performs-13last year and Matlacha Island artist and Bealls apparel fashionista Leoma Lovegrove donated a themed piece for the auction held in conjunction with the concert. All proceeds go to CLEF to fund sensory spaces in schools that school district budgets could not otherwise afford.

al-holland-performs-14As the event has evolved, so has the understanding of performers about the need.“Now we know about kids on the spectrum. We don’t know the cause, but we know the kinds of therapies they need to get through the day,” Holland told Charlotte County Florida Weekly writer Kathy Grey at last year’s event. “Kids today are able to enjoy fuller lives because of what we’ve done in the last [four] years. applause-1But there’s still more to be done.”

In 2003, autism was diagnosed in one in 166 children. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network reported that autism affects one in 68 children — and one in 42 boys.

“That’s why we started with elementary level,” eric-al-and-the-judges-02Holland told Grey. “Then we move on to middle school and onto high school. There’s a lot more that needs to be done. If you have a love of kids, you should have a love of this.”

Holland is perhaps best known for the time he spent as a keyboard player and vocalist with The Platters, a group that rose to prominence in 1955 and was responsible for such hits as The Great al-holland-01sPretender, Only You (And You Alone), My Prayer and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

Born in Detroit nearly 60 years ago, Holland has been involved with music all of his life. What choice did he have as the son of a music teacher? After years of violin lessons, Holland discovered the cello and became so proficient on the instrument that he played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Civic Orchestra. But a move to Oklahoma in the 1980s shook things up for “Big Al.” There, he al-holland-04began playing pop music in local night clubs and provided vocals for several groups before joining Attraction following his return to Detroit.

In the early ‘90s, Attraction was invited to open for The Platters. That’s where he was “discovered” by legendary founder Monroe Powell. Powell invited both Verceal Whitaker and Holland to join The Platters. Holland’s tenure with the group lasted from 1992 until 2002 and provided him with “the turning point” in his career as an entertainer. Holland has shared the stage with the likes of The Drifters, The Coasters, The Supremes and Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons. Over al-holland-09sthe years, Al performed in the United States, Canada, Japan, the Philippines and Australia. But he reached a point where he lost his love of the road, and he settled into a more sedate life in Punta Gorda, where he’s become a Southwest Florida legend, delighting audiences in Lee and Charlotte counties with his oldies, rhythm and blues, and Motown sounds. And playing with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

Al would certainly like everyone to turn out for the al-holland-07snext Night of Autism Awareness. Follow Al on Facebook for date, time and details, including the theme for next year’s concert event.

Posted October 10, 2016.

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