A! Magazine for the Arts

Kathleen, Peter and Martin Dottwerwich before a concert in Abingdon.

Kathleen, Peter and Martin Dottwerwich before a concert in Abingdon.

Arts are invaluable to children and families

February 24, 2020

My two children both have autism spectrum disorder, and from a young age the arts have meant a great deal to them. The arts provide a conversation with their own creative imaginations, a social engagement with kind and welcoming people, and an encounter with beauty.

This region provides so many opportunities, from concerts to museums to public art to readings and lectures. And people are so accessible. Kathleen has had lunch with children’s author Katherine Paterson; Peter recently took a selfie with conductor Cornelia Laemmli-Orth.

What we do most consistently is attend classical concerts. We attend the Symphony of the Mountains regularly, enjoy the Paramount Chamber Players, and we’ve found individual concerts ranging from vocal band Chanticleer to Tuvan throat singers Alash. Both Kathleen and Peter love music and experience it through their unique synesthesia and perfect pitch.

We are so grateful to the arts community in this region, and to the many supporters of the arts, for welcoming Kathleen and Peter. They can be a little singular at concerts — Kathleen with her hosts of stuffed toys, Peter with his sound sensitivities — but they have been shown inclusion, affection and respect by so many people.

It takes a whole village to raise a child; it takes a whole region to raise them with the arts.

Peter, 15, says, “Music and paintings are beautiful and mesmerizing. When I go to a concert, I go on a journey through classical music. The journey is very colorful, very soothing and adventurous. The people who play the instruments are very nice, and the way they sound is beautiful.”

Kathleen, 18, says, “At museums or art exhibits, I like all the detail they add, and the colors in the paintings. I may sound crazy, but I obsess about skirts and dresses, and sometimes hair, so I notice those in paintings and fall in love with them. And the music, I can understand pitch very well. I like concerts because the sound makes me think nostalgic thoughts. I know a lot of people who go to the concerts because I go to the concerts with them.”

Kathleen has participated in the arts locally through the Highlands Youth Ensemble, which has given her the opportunity to sing at venues like the Barter Theatre, Biltmore House and the Toy F. Reid Center. HYE has given her both an artistic outlet and new friends.

Both Kathleen and Peter take music lessons at the new Bristol Academy of Music, which has given them focus and enjoyment.