“Give daddy a kiss” Says Neon Trees Bassist Branden Campbell to his little boy Connor. The beautiful brown eyed preschooler looks forward, barely acknowledging Campbell as he lovingly kisses him on the cheek. Then Connor squirms away.
Connor has autism. The Neon Trees concert benefits Giant Steps, the preschool Campbell, and his wife Emilie say is slowly bringing their son out of the silent world where he began.
Emilie says Connor has learned to sign, and is now responding to others. “He’s engaged. He is connected to us. He’s connected to the kids around him. He is interested in toys, he is interested in people.”
One out of every 47 Utah children has autism spectrum disorder. Most would not be able to enjoy a concert like the one performed by Neon Trees. Children with autism experience difficulty with social experiences, communication, and they have sensory sensitivity. Emilie explains there are different degrees and types of autism. “There are some children with autism that you would never know that they have any disability at all because they are so high functioning. Then, there are some kids that are so severe I think people lose hope and give up.”
But, early intervention can make a difference; Emilie says they have seen a huge difference in Connor since started at Giant Steps two years ago. "Now he knows how to point to what he wants, to take us by the hand, he can sort colors and shapes, and he's learning letters and numbers and things that I couldn't see him doing. People that don't have children or family with autism in their lives don't realize how much potential they really have."
Saturday night Neon Trees rocked the Mountain View auditorium, as lead singer Tyler Glenn wailed "I am sick and tired of feeling second best." Parents with autistic children were grateful the band put them first. By playing for Giant Steps Autism preschool, they say the group creates hope more steps will be taken in every community to create greater understanding, and generate better funding for early intervention.
Branden Campbell says while children with autism may act differently, they are ultimately just kids. "Realize that with a lot of these kids there is a normal kid inside there. They understand what's going on and they are just having a hard time communicating."