Toronto’s ASD group wants other people with autism to know: ‘We can do anything’

It takes a lot of common sense to name your group after your own neurodevelopmental condition.

But the four members of the ASD gang – the acronym stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder – wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s the reality vocalist Rawan Tuffaha, keyboardist Ron Adea, guitarist Jackson Begley and drummer Spenser Murray face on a daily basis, and now that they’ve bonded through music, Toronto rockers want to dispel stereotypes. and show the world that the sky is the limit in terms of their individual abilities.

In fact, they see themselves as the emblematic children of potential and possibility.

“I want everyone to know who is on the spectrum that we are different but not less, and we can do whatever we can to put our hearts and minds into it,” Tuffaha said on a recent Zoom call. .

“And we want them to have confidence in themselves, whatever their talents, like technology, music, baking or math.”

Tuffaha makes his point more eloquently with his lyrics on the title track of “Fireflies,” a recently released six-song EP of original material that puts the listener in the shoes of a community that is often as misunderstood than underestimated.

“We have abilities to amaze you / Don’t underestimate us, we are unique / It’s time to shine,” Tuffaha moaned with her authoritative voice, articulating mixed emotions of frustration, challenge, hope and hope. self-determination throughout the rock ‘n’ roll anthem.

There are more people living on the spectrum than you might think: A 2018 National Autism Spectrum Disorders Surveillance System report found that 1 in 66 Canadian children and youth aged 5 to 17 were diagnosed as being on the spectrum, while the Canadian Medical Association Journal estimates that 2% of the Canadian population has autism, of which approximately 135,000 live in Ontario.

Defined by Autism Ontario as “a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how a person communicates and relates to people and the world around them,” autism can affect body language, social interactions, relationships, personal engagement and sensory processing skills, with sound and noise. considering this treatment both positively and negatively.

“The spectrum is very broad,” said Andrew Simon, creative director of Edelman Canada and board member of the Mississauga charity Jake’s House, which supports families affected by autism.

Simon is the ASD Group’s non-commissioned manager and the person who put together the band’s lineup.

“For these people, music is their communication,” Simon said. “A few band members were uncommunicative before the music gave them their outlet.”

The ASD Band story began on World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2019.

Former Supertramp vocalist Roger Hodgson performed a free concert in what is now Meridian Hall with Tuffaha, Adea, Begley and Murray joining him and a 43-piece orchestra for Supertramp’s hit “Give a Little Bit”.

They played to a packed house and Tuffaha said sharing the stage with Hodgson was a pleasure.

“It was an amazing experience and I loved that the crowd loved us.”

After the show, the ASD Band became a longer-term initiative “to really celebrate who they were as individuals and have a collective experience that goes against the stereotype of people thinking people on the spectrum are aloof or like to be separated from society. ”

They began rehearsing and recording covers, anchored on bass by veteran musician Maury LaFoy, formerly of the Ottawa Starling, who has since worked with a wide variety of Canadian musical luminaries, Terra Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, k- os, Sarah Harmer and Danny Michel. among them.

LaFoy said he got involved with the band alongside former Chalk Circle vocalist Chris Tait and Ari Posner at brand agency Sonic Pirate Toronto.

“These guys were helping Jake’s House achieve this vision that they had, that people with autism can do all kinds of things.”

After being recruited for bass duties, LaFoy was soon tapped to help with the arrangement and production. He says his role with the band ASD “was a real boost for me”.

“What’s great about them is that they say yes to anything and everything,” he said. “There is never any reluctance. They are totally focused on the content and the real reason you make music, for fun and for achievement, as opposed to any translation or commercial success.

“These guys taught me to stay open and keep breathing, and make sure I don’t shut down the creativity.”

After covering Imagine Dragons’ “All for You” and receiving the band’s Daniel Platzman endorsement on social media, Simon suggested the band start composing originals early last summer.

“Fireflies” was the first and Simon commends the band for speaking their collective truth.

“The reality is that they’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re living with autism, that they’re open about the fact that they’re on the spectrum. And I think that’s important because that’s part of who they are.

The group is working on recording their next batch of songs.

Although the pandemic prevented the band ASD from performing in front of an audience – Hodgson’s appearance was their alone live show to date – they have continued to rehearse and hope to perform live once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

For Tuffaha, the ASD Band is the first step in hopefully following other successful musicians who have identified as autistic, including David Byrne and Eminem.

“It gives me strength and confidence,” Tuffaha said.

“What I like the most about the band is that we have a myriad of abilities and we showcase them. It fulfills me because my dream is to be a famous singer and also show the autism community, as long as we have our goals and it’s something we can accomplish, we can do it as long as we have confidence in ourselves.

“I hope one day we will all be famous.”

Corina C. Butler