Article: Vilona Trachtenberg
Photos Courtesy Rock Autism

305,371 children live in Western New York. Of that amount, an estimated 2,036 live with an autism spectrum disorder, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sonny Muscato was one of those children. Jack Salerno is one of those children.

A new movement rocked the Buffalo music scene last November.  It set out to help youth like Sonny and Jack, who live with autism spectrum disorders.

Rock Autism is a nonprofit organization that raises funds by hosting benefits concerts  to specifically, fund programs that provide exceptional education and vocational programs, with a focus on music and creative arts.

The founders of Rock Autism, Max Muscato and Alea Conte, believe that these programs help curb issues that people on the autism spectrum face, including isolation, unemployment, drug addiction and incarceration.

Sonny, Max’s brother, is the inspiration behind Rock Autism’s inception. Max grew up watching Sonny struggle with autism, depression, self-medication, and crime, but also witnessed the transformative effects that music had on Sonny.

As a talented drummer, whenever Sonny would sit behind his drum kit, he was focused and happy, and his struggles were put aside to make room for rhythms and tempos.

Max knew that music would save Sonny. Max also knew that music is what would save other youth like Sonny.

Max and his father Marc knew they would have to be the catalyst for these programs, since access to autism music programs didn’t come easy.

Since then, Sonny has been attending Alfred State College for film production and continues to play drums, where he is in his thriving moment.

That confidence and sense of belonging that Rock Autism exudes is where 11-year-old Jack comes in.

Jack’s father Frank met the founders of Rock Autism, Max Muscato and Alea Conte, at an inaugural Rock Autism show this past Thanksgiving Eve.

Jack recently garnered a strong interest in music, and come January, he was invited to join Max and his band on stage. He played drums at a show with other local bands.

Frank realized that in that moment, Jack had his moment to feel accepted and be proud of his identity in the autism spectrum community.

Jack played again in April and the burst of confidence he felt from performing on stage helped him succeed in school and sports, as well as music.

Even from that small moment, Rock Autism was able to already change a life.

Frank is an avid volunteer and activist for Rock Autism because he knows that his three autistic sons, as well as the rest of the community, will benefit.

“[Rock Autism] is an incredible testament to perseverance and fight in a long, uphill battle to help get autistic individuals the help they need to develop a craft in the creative arts or music,” Frank said.

The Rock Autism team is excited for what’s next on the horizon: Rock Autism Music Festival.

Rock Autism and Sensu Music present Rock Autism Music Festival September 1st in the heart of Ellicottville, NY. Strictly Hip will headline the celebration along with Big Eyed Phish: Dave Matthews Tribute Band. Sonny Muscato will also join his brother Max on stage to perform festival anthem, “Sonnyboi.”

Rock Autism Music Festival is the first major music event to benefit music and art therapy programs at People Inc. and Autism Services of Western New York. Presale tickets are $15 with VIP packages available. For festival updates, follow Rock Autism Music Festival on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Interested vendors and sponsors should inquire at

Tickets and full line-up are available at: