‘“My bank called me recently because they noticed highly suspicious activity on my credit card. … It was from a gym membership.”

That line came from a comedian perched behind a drum set who punctuated each joke with a bada boom and a cymbal strike as laughter erupted.

“I’ve also realized that, if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you …” Bada boom …

Carson Wehlage, 19, of Rancho Santa Fe, was onstage in front of cameras doing his comedy routine to attract the votes of online viewers.

“America’s Got Talent”? No, “Autism’s Got Talent.”

Judges Simon Cowell, Sofia Vergara, Heidi Klum and Howie Mandel were nowhere in sight at this talent show. But that didn’t matter. The contestants poured their hearts and souls into their performances under the lights at the Rock and Roll San Diego facility near the Sports Arena where many professional acts rehearse.

The contestants sang, danced, played piano, strummed air guitar, worked hand puppets, mimicked singer Jason Mraz, and much more. When final votes were tallied last week, Carson earned first place and $2,500. He was adorned with a crown, a red velvet cape and a mirror-ball mic.

Singer Jonah Palmer took second place; third place was captured by pianist Bruce Kopstein, with the precocious talent of being able to listen to a song then play it.

“Working in a professional recording studio and being the center of attention with sound checks and lighting is so important for these kids who have a hard time finding a way to shine among their mainstream peers,” says Jan Wehlage, Carson’s mother.

This was the second “Autism’s Got Talent” production. Instead of being silenced by the lockdown, this event sprouted from the pandemic.

When the pandemic scuttled their usual fundraisers — Splash for Cash swimathon, Beers and Cheers, and the Lights, Camera, Autism event— board members of the Autism Society of San Diego got creative in finding a way to generate financial support for services vital to the autism community.

The resulting program not only raised money, it raised the bar.

“No fundraiser I’ve ever put on gave me the intoxicating feeling we got in the studio,” says Jorie Ellazar. She and her husband, Joel, handle marketing and public relations for a living. They both serve on the board of the local autism society.’

Click HERE to continue reading Diane Bell’s article in the SD Union Tribune.

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