Family turns autism experiences into music

March 8, 2010 3:21:59 PM PST
Having a child with autism can be challenging for families. But it can also be inspiring. Dealing with autism can be an emotional roller coaster, as many parents and siblings of autistic children know. But the problem can create challenges that can bring joy and pride and hope. One father put all that emotion into poetry, and now it's music.

The lyrics were written by John O'Neil, father of 14-year-old James, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

John, a newspaper man, has written many songs, all moving, emotional lyrics about the experiences his family has shared dealing with autism.

"Some of them are pretty hard, like the experience of getting a diagnosis for your child," he said. "But some are unexpectedly wonderful."

The experiences are now music, recorded on a CD. It was put together with the help of musician friends Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes, neighbors from from just down the road.

"Together, we wrote the music and got other artists to perform them," Shoshkes said.

"Found people that were very willing to help, because everybody knows somebody affected by autism," Fried said.

The CD, called "Songs of the Spectrum," is now their tool to raise funds, broaden awareness about autism and...

"To try to get people who understand what autism is and what people with autism are like, because just because somebody is different doesn't mean they should be shoved to the edge of society," O'Neil said.

A case made very well by 14-year-old James, now mainstreamed in middle school and pursuing interests in film, music and art.

"I made it," he said. "I survived."

James also reads one of his own poems on the CD.

"You always have me hearing on your side, but I don't think you can hear mine," he reads. "my side has to be heard."

James's side has to be heard, and this CD, also, should be heard. The songs were recorded by artists Jackson Browne, Valerie Carter, Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Geiger and many others.

It also comes with an educational packet about autism, and 90 percent of proceeds go to autism organizations.

There is also concert coming up. For more information and to find out how to buy the CD, visit