Autism and music

In lots of people`s minds music and autism are linked. Many people have the image of the autistic savant in their head; someone who is completely incapable of doing anything else in life but sits down at a piano for the first time, and plays it as if they`ve had thirty years of training. And while this may be the case for a handful of people with autism, it`s not something that is particularly common, and neither is it the subject of this blog.
For me listening to music has always been a strange experience. Mostly songs will trigger off thoughts in my head. I would do what I call imaginings – basically choreographing and scripting an entire animated film in my head ( ).
. Hearing music would often trigger off certain things in the stories or make it easier to focus, and be creative. For the most part this is how I determine whether I like songs or not – how much they trigger off that creativity in my head. Even nowadays, whenever I write articles, blogs or books, I have to have music on in the back ground. It is not that I can’t work with no back ground music, it is just that given the option I definitely prefer to have something to listen to because I find it makes me vastly more creative. Another thing I would always do, which I don’t do as much now, is create montages in my head, either from books – I have always been able to visualise every character and setting of every book I’ve ever read in vivid detail – or with the characters created in my imaginings. These would play out just like the montages you see in films – flashes of action and characters set to a song. The music didn’t even have to have anything to do with what I was imagining about – the song would just start, and I would begin to think of the characters. Often songs for me are forever linked with certain books or films, even if they technically have nothing to do with each other. This might be because I was reading the book while listening to a certain CD over and over again, or simply because I feel that the atmosphere of the song is similar to the atmosphere of the book. An example of this would include the book of `Let the Right One In` being linked to the album `Distant Relatives` by Damian Marley
I also don’t tend to sing along or hum to music. It`s never been something I`ve had the urge to do. Partly I guess this is because I’d much rather listen to somebody who can sing than drown the song out with my own voice. I know there are some autistic people who will memorise the words to whole films, and repeat them, and this is known as echolalia – but is that really any different from neuro-typical people memorising the words to entire songs? How many songs could you recite word for word? I imagine most people know at least a couple of hundred. It is really just the same thing – just a slightly shorter format.
I don’t know how music features in other autistic people’s lives, or if anybody reading this does anything similar to what I do. But I`m sure somebody, somewhere must.
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4 thoughts on “Autism and music

  1. A lot of the details here are similar to what I do when listening to music. I find that I have to have something going in the background; it covers the white noises of the dogs moving around the house during the day while I’m trying to concentrate on school.

  2. Mostly, music holds memories for me – of people or specific times in my life… I went into a charity shop this morning and picked up Now 34 of all the CDs on the shelf there. There are loads of songs on there that hold memories for me – even if it’s just driving home from dance class with my mum. I think of those who have come and gone from my life. People can be so passionate about the artists they like – I just remember them really easily. For that reason only, there are a surprisingly large number of songs and tunes that hold significance to me.

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