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'Meltdown' for autism draws thousands

Posted: April 26, 2014 9:31 p.m.
Updated: April 26, 2014 9:31 p.m.
 

More than 4,000 people turned out on Saturday for the 11th annual “Yes I Can” Summer Meltdown Autism Awareness Music and Arts Festival at Santa Clarita Skate Park.

Summer Meltdown is entirely put together by students in the “Yes I Can” program at William S. Hart Union High School District, many of whom are living with autism and Asperger syndrome.

“We have been working for the event for an entire year,” said festival co-founder Bret Lieberman, a special education teacher at Canyon High School. “The students are in charge of scouting talent and contacting the manager. Without them this event would not be possible.”

While Summer Meltdown helps promote awareness of autism and similar disorders, the “Yes I Can” curriculum leading up to it provides a way for students to learn social skills, such as collaborating and communicating with their peers, organizers said.

“We’ve showed these kids that the sky is the limit and they can do anything if they set their minds to it,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman and co-founder Lisa Lamedman developed Summer Meltdown in 2004 to help their students feel accepted by the rest of society, but it was the students themselves who were the catalyst for the event, Lieberman said.

“I was working with 12 students with disabilities, and the students with autism were getting bullied constantly,” Lieberman said. “Many felt like they didn’t fit in. And they knew I threw concerts before I became a teacher.

“The students challenged me,” Lieberman added, “and there wasn’t any going back after that.”

The “Yes I Can” program has benefited 500 students and is predominantly run by its students, volunteers and trained advisors.

Canyon High School student Hector Chimal said he signed up for the “Yes I Can” program to help make a difference in the community.

“I am proud that I was able to be a part of this,” Chimal said. “Without ‘Yes I Can’ I wouldn’t be in this spot. It’s helped me meet more people and have close relationships with others.”

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