The heart and impetus of AIAB begins with the birth of Scott Siegel, son of Michael and Leeni Siegel. Scott became an accomplished musician honored at Carnegie Hall and Michael became the manager of Scott’s band. Scott became an inspiration for the disability community and during a performance of his band Michael and Scott experienced a Social Inclusionary moment that inspired them to form Awareness in a Box®, which has promoted ideas of Social Inclusion to organizations throughout the country.
Michael Siegel’s son, Scott, was born in 1985 and diagnosed with autism when he was thirteen years old. While it was not that long ago Scott is actually an elder in this population. 1 in 2500 children was born with autism in 1985. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported the number could be as high as 1 in 68 children were born with autism in 2014 (CDC, 2014).
Scott was aware that he was a person with autism. However, he paid little attention to the label because it did not have any significant meaning to him. His friends were all typical mainstream kids and Scott was very creative in his “worka-rounds” to compensate for his challenges that autism presented in his life. The gifts of autism in Scott’s life have far outweighed his challenges. He has a great heart and is amazingly resourceful and creative on how he views and navigates through the world.
Scott’s gift has really blossomed in music. Today, he is an accomplished singer (four octave vocal range), songwriter (600 original compositions), and recording engineer. In 2009 Scott formed his band, Arrest My Sister.
Michael managed the band and suggested that due to Scott’s status with autism the band should be marketed the in the disability community. Scott was all for it. They connected with Easter Seals and things started to take off.
Scott became a student at Inclusion Films, a school that trains people with disabilities to work in the movie industry, in November of 2009. Scott invited about 15 of his classmates to an Arrest My Sister performance at the Cabana Club in Hollywood, CA in mid November. There were a total of about 75 people in the room. One of the students that Scott invited was Nicky, a young man with severe cerebral palsy who uses a wheel chair.
At first, while the students with disabilities shared the space with everyone else, Nicky, in particular was not really mixing with the people in the club. That changed when Scott invited everyone to dance. Nicky put his chair in gear and was the first to dance. Most everyone in the room gravitated to Nicky and began to dance with him. The people in the room became one. The differences among individuals became invisible. Everyone belonged. True Social Inclusion was happening.
The concept of AIAB was inspired by that moment, by the realization that music can bring diverse people together and that the barrier of difference can be overcome with information, empathy and experience.
Scott and Arrest My Sister were invited to play at Carnegie Hall in January of 2011 as part of the Genius in Autism celebration sponsored by the McCarton Foundation in New York City, NY. Scott had now been exposed to a number of people with autism and he noticed that all of the people he met (his perception) with autism had many greater challenges than he did and Scott became resentful of his autism label.
He loved the population of people with disabilities. However, he believed that the label of autism did not accurately describe his total identity. As a result he was not excited about all of the accolades that came his way. He wanted to be known as a “great musician” not the “autistic musician”.
Postmodernism, discussed in the “AIAB Differennce” section, allows for Scott to have multiple identities as a son, man, musician, boyfriend, hiker, songwriter, and also a person with autism. Any one of those identities does not allow others to understand the diversity of Scott. In different communities his diversity will surface. In the studio his identity as a recording engineer will be dominant. On the mountain he is a hiker and in Michael’s presence he performs the son identity. Since AIAB has incorporated these ideas in the training Scott is much more comfortable with his relationship to autism.