Autism center hits the right notes in Austintown
AUSTINTOWN — Scott Austalosh’s vision of installing a site with music and sound technology to benefit those with autism while honoring his daughter on the spectrum has hit a high note.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a major Disney star and award-winning songwriter in your corner.
“She’s verbal, very charismatic and very outgoing. She actually gravitates toward people,” Austalosh said about his daughter, Sophia Austalosh, 22, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
Austaloch, who directs a nonprofit foundation called Voices 4 Autism, got to see his vision much more clearly during an event Monday at The Carousel Center, 60 Westchester Drive. Also at the gathering to help open Sophia’s Place, in his daughter’s name, at the center was Genevieve Goings of Sherman Oaks, California, perhaps best known for her starring role in “Choo Choo Soul,” a music-video program on the Disney Junior channel.
Austaloch, who moved to the Mahoning Valley in 2002, is a single father who has raised Sophia since birth, he said.
Voices 4 Autism, established about two years ago, seeks to bring greater awareness to autism and “showcase its beauty” via a series of stories told by influential people, according to its website.
Austaloch said he hopes to have Sophia’s Place sites set up in many locations and added he’s grateful to The Carousel Center for housing its first installation. The Carousel Center, which provides personalized day programs for those with intellectual and developmental challenges, also is a certified autism center.
During Monday’s gathering, Goings, who also produces music for children, conducted demonstrations on three interactive wall panels that contain a series of colored buttons she referred to as “loopable instrumental tracks.” One panel allows those on the spectrum to hear common “fun” sounds such as those from various animals, as well as others from cars, trains and related everyday objects.
Another board’s buttons let users make their own music and they simulate the sounds of musical instruments, including drums, saxophone and trumpet. The setup gives users a means to create music and better understand the concept of rhythm, as well as provide opportunities for cooperative play and socialization.
Another benefit to the music boards is that they leave plenty of room for improvisation, she explained.
“An individual at any level can be successful in making a song,” Goings said. “There’s no wrong way to do this wall; you’re going to succeed every time you step up to do this.”
The Carousel Center also has an innovative “calming” room that one person on the autism spectrum at a time can use to relax and decompress, Shannon Arcade, chief executive officer for Austintown-based RaeArc Industries Inc., noted.
The center is under the RaeArc umbrella.
The room has five interactive wall panels in which users can press a series of buttons that produce several “touch stories,” along with soft and gentle sounds such as waves washing ashore, frog noises at night and birds chirping. The space also contains an autistic “crash pad” that looks similar to a thick mattress that’s equipped with a weighted blanket, since many on the spectrum derive greater comfort from tighter pressure exerted on them.
Also in the room are dimmable lights, fiber optics that can change colors and sets of headphones that those with sound sensitivities can wear — all in an effort to “keep things super simple,” Arcade continued.
Arcade recalled that she had a few empty spaces in her program and was more than happy to accommodate Austaloch’s vision and plans. In addition, he had asked Goings to get on board with his ideas, something to which she readily agreed.
Goings also produces the music in a studio she has in Los Angeles, she said.
“When Scott explained he wanted to help people understand not just the challenges, but the beauty of autism, and when I saw his passion for his daughter, Sophia, and her journey as an autistic person, I wanted to help him realize his vision,” Goings added.