Local musicians band together for Autism Spectrum Disorder awareness this Sunday

Promotional poster for A Greavis Gathering, this Sunday, November 25, at BluMartini, 178 Ontario Street.

Derrick Claridge can’t stop gushing about the Kingston music scene. He’s lived in Kingston, and been part of the scene himself, since 1992.

“The spirit of cooperation that this scene continually shows is unmatched anywhere, as far as I’m concerned,” says Claridge. “The single biggest reason I am still in Kingston is because of those qualities in this music scene that I’ve never found anywhere else. All I have to do is put the ask out there.”

The ask, in this case, is support for this Sunday’s second annual A Greavis Gathering at BluMartini, which this year is in support of awareness for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The inspiration for Claridge was hearing a story about the McKinlay family whose autistic son, Ewan, experienced “an ill-timed spell” in a local grocery store. The result, according to the family, was an uncomfortable confrontation with the manager and security that resulted in the family being banned from the store. Claridge, and Ewan’s older brother Connor, wants to work to ensure that the public has more knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder, so that there is more understanding about how autistic people behave in the community.

“With more awareness,” says Claridge, “we can have more acceptance and understanding and patience to avoid these unnecessary feelings of isolation that get created in those situations.”

Connor McKinlay, 13, is a budding musician and community activist, and he’ll be speaking at Sunday’s event about the need for more awareness about ASD and what it’s like living with an autistic brother.

“Everybody is aware of autism,” says Nadra Khan, Ewan and Connor’s mother. “But when they see a child in public that has this disorder misbehaving, I want them to know that it’s often because autistic people can’t control themselves like everybody else can. I’m hoping it will open people’s eyes to look and listen and understand what the parent is going through at that time, knowing that everyone is looking over their shoulders and judging that parent.”

This is the second time Claridge has organized A Greavis Gathering. Greavis is the portmanteau nickname for local music scene stalwarts Greg Richmond and Mavis Livingstone. The first event was a big success and raised money for the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston and Joe’s M.I.L.L.

“You can pretty much guarantee if you’re going out to see a live band, you’re going to run into them,” says Claridge of Richmond and Livingstone.

Although last year’s event was intended as a one-off, Claridge decided to try again after hearing about the issues that autistic people and their families face every day.

“I saw this post [about the grocery store incident] and it really tugged at my heartstrings,” says Claridge. “I put a call out to the same group that played the previous event and within 24 hours I had more acts than I had room for. I asked Greg and Mavis if they wanted to endorse it and they said sure.”

Doors open at 1:30 pm, and the 12 scheduled musical performances run from 2 pm to 9 pm. BluMartini is donating a portion of their sales to the cause, as well as providing sound and hospitality to the volunteer organizers and musicians. Mae Whalen, the development coordinator for the Autism Ontario Kingston Chapter, will be on hand with an information table about Autism Spectrum Disorder, and will be accepting donations. Tax receipts will be made available as well.

“The money stays directly in the Kingston area,” says Whalen. “We support all ages of people with ASD and their caregivers. It will be an opportunity for us to provide more programming for groups like first responders, local government, and retail stores. Awareness and education go a long way.”

“It’s a free show,” says Claridge, “to maximize the impact of the message of awareness. This is typical of the classy level of support from Kingston musicians.”

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