We recently wrote about singer/songwriter Cassandra Kubinski's autism anthem, "Not So Different." Cassandra is donating proceeds from the song to autism charities including Autism Speaks. Check out the making of the video below!
Cassandra's inspiration for the song is her friend Vanessa, who has two sons on the spectrum. We talked to Cassandra and Vanessa about their joint music project.
How did you two get to know each other?
Cassandra: Our friend Bogdan introduced us, and then through various social events, we got to know each other- and then last summer, Vanessa mentioned I should write a song for their upcoming Autism Speaks walk in NJ in October. From there, we got closer as we worked together on the project and connected about the song and her experiences in the Autism community.
Cassandra, how did you get your start in music?
Cassandra: I’ve been singing since I was 2, and sang in school choirs, church groups, and in private lessons when I was a kid. I also played piano since 2nd grade. My first professional show was “Annie” at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, when I was 12. I got picked to be the lead, and my life changed- now I was a Union actor doing 8 shows a week, and getting paid! From there, I continued to study voice and piano, and went to Florida State University for theatre. In school, I got bitten by the songwriting bug, wanting to write songs like my musical heroes Billy Joel, John Mayer, Vanessa Carlton, Carole King, Fiona Apple, Rob Thomas… so when I graduated FSU, I moved to NYC to be a pop songwriter and artist.
Vanessa, I understand you have two sons on the spectrum. Would you mind telling me a little about them and your experience raising autism awareness?
Vanessa: My older son turned 6 in December, and my little one will be 5 in June, both would be consider high functioning but they do have sensory disorder as well as speech delays. They were diagnosed in the winter and spring of 2011 and our lives completely changed. When it comes to awareness, I find that for the most part, people just don't know that they don’t' know. Most people think that they know what autism is or what a child/adult with autism is supposed to look but that is a bad assumption. Once I start telling them that my children are on the spectrum they start realizing that the most "normal" looking people can be living with it. Most people are very receptive to information and want to learn more.
Why was it important to you two to create “Not So Different”?
Cassandra: I spoke with Vanessa and various other parents of autistic children, and was moved by what they went through to get support, services, therapies, and most of all, understanding for their children. When I heard their stories and read and watched a lot online as well, I was struck by the thought that people with autism simply respond to stimuli differently, and have a different lens through which they filter the world. But at their core, they want love, acceptance, and self-expression, as we all do. Beyond Autism, it was important to me to write something that expressed that- that we all want the same things in our hearts, though the desire may manifest in different ways. I saw an opportunity to unite, invigorate, and inspire the world to be more compassionate and understanding.
Vanessa: I want everyone to know about acceptance and open mindedness. One day my children will be out in the world without me, I want a society where they can thrive without judgment. This song fosters that, and creates a vibe of positive and fun for us.
I understand for this project Cassandra interviewed several families affected in some way by ASD. How have they and the people around you responded to what you’re doing?
Cassandra: One woman I interviewed told me about her grown son, and how difficult it was to raise him before there was an Autism Speaks or other organizations to support them and their journey. She told me she listened to the song while driving, and had to pull over because she was crying. Another father heard the song and sent me a beautiful email, saying if there was anything at all he could do to help, he would. People have responded because the song reflects their emotional journey, their struggle, their hope, and ultimately, their love and desire to feel safe and supported by the community. There has been a huge outpouring of support for the song from individuals, families, and Autism organizations.
Cassandra, how has your perception and understanding of autism changed since beginning this project?
Cassandra: As a songwriter, I was initially more interested in saying something moving with words and music, creating a vibe that would allow people to move, to share, to cry, to dance together. As I got more involved in the community and have been privy to so many people’s stories, sharing about their families, and I get to hear about their triumphs and challenges, my perception has shifted and I understand better how complex Autism is, how complex the community implications are, how multi-layered the ideas and opinions about causes and treatments are. I have an even deeper respect and admiration for the families, the courage of the parents, the beautiful spirits of the children, and the perseverance of the people who live and thrive with Autism every day.
What do you hope people take away from this song?
Vanessa: acceptance and compassion
Cassandra: Compassion. Love. Understanding. I hope people hear it, and for that day and many days after, people approach the other people in their lives, like family, friends, service workers, your barista, your doctor, everyone… with a little more patience. More willingness to look for an celebrate our common desire to love and be loved, to triumph over adversity, and to be understood. And I hope people are uplifted and inspired by the song and video, and have fun sharing it!