Mar 21

Language and Music: Auditory Processing

Posted: under life on the spectrum, music, sensory processing.
Tags: , , , ,  March 21st, 2009

In another venue someone asked if anyone else’s child on the autism spectrum hated to hear their mother sing.

My answer was yes: when our son was pre-verbal, he didn’t much like singing at all (with the exception of a lullaby I’d made up for him early on) but he did like music…until the 18 months when he didn’t.   For about two years I was choir director for a very small church’s very small choir, and I could not have him in the church while we rehearsed–he’d scream the whole time.

Once he began to talk (a process that took years to achieve) he complained about singing.  He liked music–he liked to have me play the piano, and began playing himself very early–but singing, especially in groups, seemed almost to hurt him.   (His early ability on the piano, combined with being nonverbal, made us consider if he might be a musical savant.  Not many preschoolers will start playing along with very complex difficult classical music.)

Though he gradually came to accept some vocal music, with a single (very good) singer,  things changed again for an 18 month period.   Suddenly (as in, within one week) he could not stand any music at all, even music he had enjoyed before.   Music in the mall, music in a restaurant, music on the radio or TV–none of it.   His language  at this stage was what is called “right-brain”–the way people speak who have had damage to their left-brain auditory processor,  the main language center (Broca’s area.)  Stilted and downright peculiar syntax, little emotional expression, etc.    And music is processed (for most people) mostly in the right-brain auditory processor.  Were the two interfering when both words and music came in together?

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Dec 08


Posted: under music, the book.
Tags: , ,  December 8th, 2008

Many people have commented on the amount–and kind–of music in the book.   Lou (the protagonist) listens to music, hears/feels music in his mind even when not outwardly listening to music, and has distinct preferences for which pieces go with what tasks.

When our son was very young, it was clear that he responded emotionally to music, and I often used music to help him stabilize a good mood or manage a bad one.    One particular Etude of Chopin’s could be counted on to calm him; several pieces brought delighted laughter.

Since my husband and I both like classical music, and have sung in church choirs for years, the musical environment was almost exclusively classical–a wide range of periods–with some additional vocal bits aimed at children.

Our son showed an early preference for complicated music as well as responding to the emotional tones.  He wore out cassette tapes of favorites (including some Russian opera, a Bach cantata, a tape of Bach organ music) and now enjoys going to concerts if it’s music he likes.   We knew he had good pitch sense, but did not realize until a friend was tuning her harp with one of those electonic tuning forks that he has absolute pitch…she turned it on and set a tone (without him seeing it) and he said “That’s a D!” in a surprised voice.

I thought of that tonight on the way home from the dress rehearsal for a MESSIAH performance…there’s no sing-along MESSIAH in our area this year, but I’m singing in the chorus for a symphony performance and he and my husband will come.

Is music important to all autistic persons?   I have no idea.   But I know it’s important to more than one because I’ve met several who use music to regulate and manage emotional state, to aid concentration, and so on…just as I do.

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