“We are normal people. We are a loud family who loves our kids and has fun.” -Jennifer Bruno
Jennifer Bruno and Michael Bruno are the parents of Cassie, 12, and Carly, 14. Their home is full of love, giggles, and loud music – because you can’t have a preteen and a teenager in the house without the constant drum of music and sporadic dance parties.
Cassie’s life hasn’t always been so easy. She struggled a lot with emotional outbursts of anger and being unable to express herself when she was younger. Her parents believed that this was from her blindness. After more research, they finally discovered the cause of Cassie’s behavior.
Cassie was diagnosed with autism.
They tried many different options to help Cassie, but with little success. Then they met the person who would change their life.
Katie Harrill was the first person to truly connect with Cassie in a way that made her world click. Katie, a therapist, was able to reach Cassie in a way that others had not had the ability to before. Her methods for helping Cassie were quite different than previous therapists.
Katie is a board-certified music therapist and is breaking all the rules when it comes to behavioral therapy. She has been with Wesley Family Services, a Pennsylvania-based healthcare center focused on the nontraditional aspects of behavioral therapy, for 18 years. Katie is the head of the Creative Arts Program, which encompasses therapy services that use music, art, dance, drama, and digital storytelling.
The patients range from 18 months to 70 years of age. The main goal for all of Wesley’s clients is to gain self-confidence and increase their fine and gross motor skills. Sometimes when experiencing a mental illness or deficit, it’s hard to control emotions such as anger and energy, but there are many services offered at Wesley that allow clients to let loose and relieve stress.
With the help of Katie and her own family, Cassie continues to accomplish things that some people could have never imagined. Before their relationship with Wesley Family Services, Cassie was not able to communicate at the same level that she does now. Now, Cassie is increasingly engaged in many activities, more verbally independent, and can answer open-ended questions, which is an incredible feat for her.
As Cassie’s capacity for everyday activities grew exponentially, Katie and her parents started to notice something. Cassie was gifted.
She has incredible potential and talent when it comes to singing and playing just about any instrument she can get her hands on. Cassie has this amazing gift referred to as “perfect pitch,” meaning she can listen to a song, repeat it, and play it on any instrument. She can play it nearly perfect every single time and even adds her own little phrases like “zucchini chicken” to the song lyrics to spice them up. Singing songs like Rihanna’s “Monster” and Bruno Mars’ “If I Was Your Man,” she has even become a sensation across social media platforms with this talent
Without Katie or the Wesley Family Services’ help, this talent of Cassie’s would have never been discovered. Before their help, it was difficult to tap into Cassie’s mind and not overwhelm her.
“The best part of working with all of my clients is seeing them reach developmental milestones, or goals they may have gone without achieving if we would not have been there to help and support them and their families throughout their journeys,” Katie said.
Katie’s view of kindness is “being available, willing and alert to helping other people in any way that I can. Being sensitive and giving as much as I can without expecting anything in return, this is my life.”
Cassie’s support system is unbelievable. Her father is her biggest fan and the absolute best teammate. Every year, he chooses to run the Pittsburgh marathon blindfolded in honor of Cassie and the obstacles she has overcome. Her mother is strong. That’s where Cassie’s gets it from. Her mother has been her biggest advocate and given her the tools she needs to be successful, and most importantly, happy. Her sister Carly is her best friend. She is her protector and would do anything for her.
The most beautiful part of Cassie and her family’s life has nothing to do with autism or music. It’s about love and finding the people who make the world fit in all the right places. With all these people behind her, Cassie is destined for greatness and continues to inspire the world to become a braver and kinder place.