A Perfect Song For National Autism Awareness Month

Henry James is the 10-year-old autistic son of The Nadas’ lead singer Mike Butterworth.
A Song For April’s Autism Awareness Month

In any given year, you’re likely to find a few songs that stick with you for the long haul. A new song by the Iowa band The Nadas is one such song. 

Their song, “Henry James”, is a country-pop gem. And, for all involved, it nudges us to remember what’s important.

“Hey, Henry James”

Henry James is the son of The Nadas lead singer Mike Butterworth, and he is ordinary in most every way that you’d expect a nine-year-old to be.

He loves to use his iPad. When his dad hits the road, he goes a little crazy, as the song suggests.

Henry James has autism, too.

“Henry James”, released on the band’s eleventh record One Louder, is making a lot of impressions. It has been shared nearly 200,000 times on Facebook.

So, how does Henry James feel about the song?

“He loves it,” Butterworth said recently. “He listens to music nonstop.”

The Nadas, who are on tour raising awareness, are adept at showcasing the melodic twang of No-Depression style bands like the Jayhawks and early Wilco, to name a few. Last year, their 25th as a band, they were inducted into the Iowa Music Hall of Fame for their contributions.

An Honest Look

Henry James was diagnosed with autism five years ago. The lyrics to “Henry James” offer an honest look at life with an autistic child – highlighting the love, patience, and community required to raise autistic children.  

Reflecting that, the song opens with the plaintive lyrics: “Hey Henry James / you got me going insane.” Under a minute in, a drum snaps into place, ramping up the mood into the celebratory.

It’s symbolic to autism in general – such swings are normal, Butterworth said.

“What I’ve noticed and what I’ve found is that in life there are high times and low times and when you are a family with autism, the highs are much higher and lows are much lower than your average family,” he said.

The song is endearing in its simplicity. There’s a melodic piano, replicated from an iPhone app, that underlays the lyrics. It’s a fitting inclusion, given Henry James’ ability to use technology as a source of discovering music, his dad said. 

“Anything he hears or reads about the song he commits to memory, and I suppose that will be forever,” Butterworth said. “As years go by he’ll be an encyclopedia for that kind of thing.”

Butterworth is grateful that Henry James is able to have a musical connection. 

The Nadas were inducted into Iowa Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018. 

“With me being a musician, it takes me away from him a lot more than you would like but I think it makes our time together more special,” he said. “And the fact that I can introduce him to some music he wouldn’t hear if his father was an accountant or something is special.”

“You Get Weird When I’m Gone A While”

In the chorus, Butterworth sings a lyric that families with autism can immediately relate. It goes: “you get weird when I’m gone a while.”

It’s one of the challenges of being a musician, to having a life on the road.

“He starts to act out and things that don’t set him off normally set him off because he misses his dad,” Butterworth said.

Butterworth said he hopes the song will raise awareness beyond National Autism Awareness month.

The Center For Disease Control reports that autism diagnoses are increasing, with one in 68 children showing signs of autism spectrum disorder. That is nearly doubled since 2004.

Advocacy and awareness are one of the most effective ways to care for autistic patients.

“If I could give advice to someone who just found out that their child had autism, I think my advice would be get some help, build a support group of people who are in the same situation, and that you can bounce questions off of and vent to,” Butterworth said.

Butterworth said he has invited local charities to shows on the current tour in an effort to raise extra awareness. Their April 27 show in Denver is their last during National Autism Awareness month.

“He’s Beautiful For Who He Is”

For Butterworth, the recording of “Henry James” has enabled the band to grow musically, too. The track was produced by Alex Dezen, who was previously with The Damnwells. Initially, the upbeat song had a different feel to it.

“It had a way different vibe, and then he [Dezen] came in and said, ‘Why don’t we try it this way,’ and we were all like, ‘Yeah, that’s a lot cooler.’”

One of the new add-ins was the twinkling keyboard, based off the Bebot app, adding an air of freshness.

Overall, having an autistic child has helped Butterworth keep things in perspective. 

”I’ve never said, “Man I wish my boy was normal,'” Butterworth said. “He is who he is and he’s beautiful for who he is.”