By Kris Kelly
Community Affairs Manager, CW50 Detroit
April is Autism Awareness Month…and what better way to make people aware of the complexities of this issue than through song. This is the story of how a group of Michigan musicians and autism activists did just that.
Josh Stokes of Linden, MI was diagnosed at an early age with autism. He’s learned to overcome the difficulties associated with the condition and is now an Autism Motivational Speaker and the author of “Looking through the Eyes of The Puzzle.”
But that wasn’t enough. Stokes wanted more. He wanted people to understand what it is like to live with autism and thought a song would help express it.
That’s how the idea of “Perceptions” was born. “Perceptions” was written by Lonny Ray, an award-winning songwriter from Clio, MI, and Mike Vanderville, a Fenton, MI singer/songwriter. Stokes was the inspiration for and helped with the writing of the song. It expresses through words and music just how it feels to live with autism.
“Lights flashing all around
I keep my distance, I look down
I need to find my way back to my safe place” *
The piece features male and female voices telling both sides the autism story. The male voice explains the autistic person’s issues with interacting while the female voice provides the caretaker’s side. The voices blend on the chorus as the two sides try to reach out and relate to each other.
In addition to co-writing the song, Lonny Ray was also the producer. He searched for months to find the right vocalists to sing it. A friend and fellow musician, Detroiter Barry Schigelone, recommended Taylor Walls, an American Idol contestant (season 13 and 14) from Flat Rock, MI and member of the group, Athens Creek.
“When Taylor Walls was asked if she would be interested, she jumped at the chance to become a part of such a positive message,” explained Ray. “The search was then on for an equally powerful male counterpart.”
Another Michigan native, Chas Burtchett from Charlotte, MI, was chosen as the second voice. Burtchett also has a heart-felt connection to autism. He has a sister with the syndrome and wrote a song for her called “Cristy’s Song.”
“I knew that he would understand the song and the value of the message,” said Ray.
“These perceptions in our minds
Sometimes life’s unkind
Maybe someday we’ll see through each other’s eyes
These Perceptions in our minds
The noise is so loud
Can you hear what I’m hearing, It’s screaming inside
But I want you to know I’ll be here for you” *
According to Ray, response to the song has been very positive. Burtchett and Walls are currently booking promotional appearances across the country and will be performing at an Autism Speaks Walk in Michigan later this summer.
“We hope that this song will enlighten people to reach out to families living with Autism to have patience and understanding,” said Ray.
“Don’t you worry; I’ve got your back
Just follow me. Down that path
I’ll lead you to a place where we can roam
Come on we’re going home” *
The song is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon. Part of the proceeds from the song will provide funding for local autism awareness projects. Here’s the YouTube link if you want to check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vxeq3Wwk_NY
*Lyrics used with permission from Lonny Ray.