Article updated: 3/9/2012 8:34 AM

'Wigglers welcomed' at Naperville concert for kids with autism

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Scott McMarrow goes to church only every other Sunday.

It isn't a lack of commitment to God that keeps him home. It's his unwavering devotion to a little girl named Tamara, his 11-year-old daughter who has autism.

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If you go

What: Chords for Kids concert for families with autistic children
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 10
Where: North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall at the Fine Arts Center, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville
Cost: Free
Info: (630) 637-7469 or northcentralcollege.edu/showtix

"Many times I consider my wife to be a single parent," said McMarrow, of Batavia, who describes how they take turns going to church with their other two children so one parent can stay back to care for Tammy.

Autism can make public outings difficult.

North Central College wants to make it easy for families with autistic children to have a nice outing with their entire family at a sensory-friendly concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 10, in Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville.

"Our motto is 'wigglers welcomed.' If their child starts to talk or move around, it's not a problem," said Larry VanOyen, director of bands at North Central. "They can just go out as a family and not worry about it."

The Chords for Kids concert -- a performance by the college's Concert Winds ensemble -- began six years ago with 90 people in attendance. More than 400 attended last year -- the McMarrow family included.

It's an important outing for their family, said McMarrow, who sometimes feels a twinge of jealousy when he hears friends talk about a family vacation or even dinner out as a family.

It's a judgmental world, as so many parents of children with autism know well.

"(At other outings) I spend more time stressed out over my daughter making sure she's not grabbing another kid's toys or being too loud, and it's just no fun," he said.

Sure, the McMarrows can go to dinner or other events without Tammy. But it's not the same. The whole family isn't there.

At the Chords for Kids concert, children are free to talk and move around during the performance, which includes lively music selections such as YMCA, the chicken dance and cartoon-related musical favorites.

There's no need to feel defensive or an obligation to explain your child's behavior to onlookers, McMarrow said.

"You don't need to explain it. You're among friends and it's comfortable," he said.

The concert includes ear plugs for those who are sensitive to sound, as well as special programs with pictures demonstrating what is happening at the concert -- pictures of people playing music, clapping and singing.

It's a free concert. That's important to many families who face incredible medical bills associated with the condition.

"Whatever we can do to make it a night out. We want to take away from any obstacle," VanOyen said. "The parents work so hard, and they're amazing. We get to help for just a little bit. It seems counterproductive to charge."

Since Chords for Kids began at North Central, Chicago's North Park University has begun a similar event.

VanOyen hopes colleges everywhere start their own sensory-friendly event.

"We want to promote this and have other colleges start doing this as well," he said. "It's just a great concert to put on."

Families also can participate in a free raffle of donated items.

A reception follows the concert and includes food and drinks. Some band members will show off instruments.

Parents also have the opportunity to talk with the Concert Wind ensemble's 92 students about autism, as well as the societal issue of having compassion for others.

McMarrow says his family tries to look at the positives of his daughter's situation.

"I'm really proud of how this is helping shape both of my sons to help them (in) being much more compassionate," he said. "They're learning that you don't rush to judgment and you try to sit back and be understanding of everybody."

The concert unites and builds up these families who sometimes climb a mountain every single day, McMarrow said.

"I draw strength drawing from these other families who are taking these incredibly difficult situations and they're making the most out of it," he said. "It truly is a great evening."

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