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


  • Comment by Hsienli Tan — December 15, 2008 @ 9:32 pm


    Music is vital to humans. It comes from sound waves. Sound waves are even more primal than dance movement, I heard.

    People who react to it visibly are sensitive individuals. Autistic individuals are so sensitive to the environment, that music and noises, soothing or jarring, must have a strong effect on their moods. I am not autustic, and I find unbearable the noises leaking out of people’s ipod earphones in the subways. Whatever they are listening to, it was not classic music (the only music i would buy for myself). Yes, I personally believe music — and noises — strongly affect autustic individuals.

    Does your son like gregorian or other medieval chants? Some years ago, a chant CD, I believe from Angel label — or titled “Angel” — came out. You probably have heard or have it. It was a hot seller for a while. It was recorded in a monastery in Spain, with just a microphone. It was quite beautiful and soothing and seem evoke soothing, warm shadows on firelit cave walls. (Note: only one person I learned who didn’t like it. He was well known for being ruthless and underhanded.)


  • Comment by Elizabeth — December 16, 2008 @ 1:13 pm


    Our son now likes a variety of music, but classical is still the core. Early on, one of his favorite “soothing” pieces was a Chopin etude, and his favorite “excitement” piece was the Toreador March from Carmen. I could play both of those on the piano.

    Interestingly, when he first began to play the piano, he never banged on it as many toddlers do…he played softly with one finger up and down the scale, and then experimented with another, finding harmonies. He no longer plays (long story of his shift from music to language) but at five, he stunned me by playing along with a recording of Moussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” He wasn’t making many mistakes, either, given that a five-year-old’s reach isn’t up to those octave arpeggios.

  • Comment by Hsienli Tan — December 16, 2008 @ 10:30 pm


    Since autuism shows a gift for music, I think the musically gifted share similar brain wiring as the autuistic.

    I can imagine a sci-fi society where our mainstream and all that is considered “normal”, are the marginal, and vice versa.

    One of the original Twilight Zone episodes tells about a woman who is terrifyingly ugly that she undergoes plastic surgery in order to have a “normal” face, so she doesn’t have to feel like such an outcast. The surgery fails … it turns out that she is quite beautiful — by our standard — and where she lives the people are terrifyingly ugly — by our standard. The episode ends with Rod Serling’s V.O. saying “it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

  • Comment by Elizabeth — December 17, 2008 @ 1:36 pm


    I remember that Twilight Zone episode.

    Musical performance is–except for pure soloists–an intensely social activity, requiring performers to notice and respond to minute signals (auditory and visual) from other performers and the director/conductor. I watched a chamber music group playing Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” and the level of nonverbal communication–conveyed in rapid glances at one another, little changes in posture, and the bowing of their instruments–was subtle, rapid, and–perforce–accurate. I think most autists would find it difficult to process multi-channel information that fast.

    The autistic savant musicians I’ve heard about have all been soloists.

  • Comment by J Charreaux — June 20, 2009 @ 12:08 pm


    Music is the Key

    I’ve been working with students on the autism spectrum for almost a decade. From all of the textbook training and educational research platitudes, the ones I have found to be most true and obvious are, 1) students learn from teachers they like and, 2) students learn from teachers who are doing what they like to do (e.g., art, math, music, etc. I didn’t learn Algebra too easily from the Drivers Ed./P.E. coach who was assigned to teach us!)

    Previously, I saw how music therapy (along with physical and language therapy) helped my father recover 95% from an aneurysm that left him paralyzed and non-verbal. His ”normal” brain literally rewired itself around the damaged area.

    Here’s an autism spectrum-related song. Based on real life events, as the say in Hollywood. Music is the key!

    P.S. I agree that Karen Pryor’s positive approach to shaping positive behaviors is the way to go. Many approaches talk about extinguishing the unwanted behavior–like a firefighter knocking down a blaze!

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