Eleven-year-old Jacob Velazquez wowed the crowd with a flawless rendition of Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu” at the annual kickoff event of Autism Awareness Month hosted by Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz on April 9 at the Stephen P. Clark Center in downtown Miami.
The performance by the child piano prodigy, who has autism, was the highlight of the annual event, which also featured “Hope, the Blue Robot,” an autism awareness puzzle completed by County Commissioners and Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez; a keynote address by Marino Campus hospitality student Armando Luis; and a first-ever Autism Resource Fair featuring a number of advocacy organizations, including the Dan Marino Foundation, HDS Foundation, Vocational Rehabilitation and Bryan’s Art Foundation.
The event marked the 10th anniversary since Commissioner Diaz sponsored the 2009 County Commission resolution that declared April as Autism Awareness Month in Miami-Dade County in order to raise awareness about the neurobiological disorder, which impairs communication skills and social abilities and is estimated to affect 1 out of every 59 children born in the United States.
“While we continue to make strides, we can always do more as a community, which is why this year we decided to add a resource fair to help families get crucial information about autism,” Commissioner Diaz said.
Also participating in the event were FIU Embrace, the UM Center for Autism Related Disabilities, the South Florida Autism Charter School, Autism Speaks, Autism Notebook Magazine, Miami-Dade Public Schools and the Miami-Dade Public Library System. The piano used in Jacob’s performance was provided by Steinway Piano. Hope the Blue Robot was designed by artist Caro Tejeda.
A display showcasing the artworks of people with autism and the different stages of autism and programs available for parents will remain in the SPCC lobby throughout the month of April.