Angel Bartolotta was thumbing through Facebook — the new Yellow Pages — looking for a charity he could support through a birthday fundraiser.
He came across We Rock for Autism, a nonprofit founded to provide music therapy to children with autism.
Bartolotta knew right away that We Rock for Autism was a charity he could get behind — not only as an individual but as owner of the Rock Box Music School and Stage, which accepts autistic students for lessons.
“I see what music does for autistic kids,” said Bartolotta, former drummer for the metal band Dope. He opened the Rock Box in 2016. “They get way more focused. And this may sound like a cliché, but they get happy. Whether they’re playing piano or drums or singing, they’re super happy.
“That happiness is contagious.”
Recently, the Rock Box held a recital for its students with autism. Eight students ages 6 to 16 played and sang and performed, with the proceeds going to We Rock for Autism.
“Music therapy is something I hold dear to my heart,” said Bartolotta, who teaches drums at his school. “It wasn’t until I opened the Rock Box that I realized how common it is around here.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today. April is Autism Awareness Month.
Chris Wilson, a bass player who lives in Hollywood, Florida, founded We Rock for Autism in 2014. The nonprofit’s goal is to raise awareness of autism and promote acceptance. It provides music therapy and sensory friendly events that promote acceptance and inclusion.
It has partnered with the annual ‘80s in the Park Music Festival, which celebrates everything ‘80s, including its music. The 2019 festival is scheduled for September in Melbourne.
The idea of using ‘80s music — Wilson is a punk rocker — as a therapeutic device came to Wilson after he watched a close cousin raise her autistic son.
“I saw what she went through – how difficult it was for her as a parent to get help.”
At the time, Wilson was living and performing in California. When he came back east, he decided to start a nonprofit to help provide autistic children music therapy, which is not generally covered by medical insurance.
Wilson witnessed a young South Florida girl “excel in music therapy. She went from being nonverbal to pronouncing words. There’s something about music that brings something out in these kids.”
Bartolotta has also seen an autistic child improve from nonverbal to speaking in his own student, Flynn Bednarek, Flynn, 6, has been taking drum lessons with Bartolotta for 2/12 years.
“He’s a good kid. He’s come a long way,” Bartolotta said of Flynn.
Wilson has another ally in Kenny Wilkerson, bassist for Nova Rex. He’s started a cookbook, “Rockin’ Recipes for Autism,” that benefits We Rock for Autism. The book features recipes from members or former members of bands such as Ozzy Osbourne, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Poison and Warrant.
“I have been very lucky to have been given the opportunity to tour the country and meet some amazing people,” Wilkerson said in a press release. “Since I have a son on the autism spectrum, I know how important this cause is to all those affected.”
Bartolotta is committed to aiding We Rock for Autism.
“Autistic kids need music as much as anybody else,” he said. “It really does help them grow.”