Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Autistic Music, Musicking, and Musicality

From Psychoanalytic Origins to Spectral Hearing, and Beyond

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2019), 13, (1), 1–19.

Abstract

Observations of autistic musical behavior have been recorded for as long as the modern concept of autism has existed. Early autism researchers such as Leo Kanner identified autistic musicking—including listening and performing—as skilled but bizarre: autistic musicality was subsequently conceptualized from a psychoanalytic perspective as integral to the self and deeply interconnected to a pervasive pathology. Upon the decline of psychoanalytic approaches to autism in Anglophone research, autistic musicality transformed into more a myth than a serious topic of inquiry. However, a flurry of diverse studies over the past two decades has reignited interest in the topic. Music scholars drawing from disability studies began celebrating autistic musicians, and offered theories of autistic hearing and listening. In the sciences, trials revealed curious auditory processing abilities among autists, including perceptual strengths in tasks involving pitch, and weaknesses involving time. I argue that this specific combination—termed “spectral hearing”—is not only a sensory–cognitive imbalance, but portends to a neurodiverse aesthetics of perception. Like autism itself, autistic musicality is infinitely varied; however, spectral hearing and other differences appear as common subtypes that can be explored by integrating disability studies concepts, scientific data, and personal experience. Autistic musicality is a rich topic deserving of further consideration, as greater knowledge would help elaborate the nuances of the autistic lifeworld.

Access Token
£25.00
READ THIS ARTICLE
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Allen, Rory, Elizabeth Hill, and Pam Heaton. “Hath Charms to Soothe …: An Exploratory Study of How High-functioning Adults with ASD Experience Music.” Autism 13.1 (2009): 21–41. Print. Hath Charms to Soothe …: An Exploratory Study of How High-functioning Adults with ASD Experience Music Autism 13.1 21 41 Google Scholar

“amentia.” The American Heritage Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. Web. 16 Dec. 2017. amentia The American Heritage Science Dictionary Google Scholar

Bakan, Michael B. “Ethnomusicological Perspectives on Autism, Neurodiversity, and Music Therapy.” Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy 14.3 (2014). Web. 20 Mar. 2018. Ethnomusicological Perspectives on Autism, Neurodiversity, and Music Therapy Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy 14.3 Google Scholar

Bhatara, Anjali, Eve‐Marie Quintin, Bianca Levy, Ursula Bellugi, Eric Fombonne, and Daniel J. Levitin. “Perception of Emotion in Musical Performance in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Autism Research 3.5 (2010): 214–25. Print. Perception of Emotion in Musical Performance in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders Autism Research 3.5 214 25 Google Scholar

Blackstock, Edward G. “Cerebral Asymmetry and the Development of Early Infantile Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 8.3 (1978): 339–353. Print. Cerebral Asymmetry and the Development of Early Infantile Autism Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 8.3 339 353 Google Scholar

Boets, Bart, Judith Verhoeven, Jan Wouters, and Jean Steyaert. “Fragile Spectral and Temporal Auditory Processing in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Early Language Delay.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 45.6 (2015): 1845–57. Print. Fragile Spectral and Temporal Auditory Processing in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Early Language Delay Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 45.6 1845 57 Google Scholar

Dell’Antonio, Andrew and Elizabeth J. Grace. “No Musicking about Us without Us!” Journal of the American Musicological Society 69.2 (2016): 553–59. Print. No Musicking about Us without Us! Journal of the American Musicological Society 69.2 553 59 Google Scholar

Feinstein, Adam. A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print. A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers Google Scholar

Fessenden, Jon William. “Autistic Musicality: History, Theory, and Three Case Studies.” Dissertation (forthcoming), Stony Brook University. Autistic Musicality: History, Theory, and Three Case Studies Google Scholar

Frith, Uta. “Cognitive Mechanisms in Autism: Experiments with Color and Tone Sequence Production.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 2.2 (1972): 160–73. Print. Cognitive Mechanisms in Autism: Experiments with Color and Tone Sequence Production Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 2.2 160 73 Google Scholar

—. “Studies in Pattern Detection in Normal and Autistic Children: I. Immediate Recall of Auditory Sequences.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 76.3 (1970): 413–20. Print. Studies in Pattern Detection in Normal and Autistic Children: I. Immediate Recall of Auditory Sequences Journal of Abnormal Psychology 76.3 413 20 Google Scholar

Haesen, Birgitt, Bart Boets, and Johan Wagemans. “A Review of Behavioural and Electro-physiological Studies on Auditory Processing and Speech Perception in Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 5.2 (2011): 701–14. Print. A Review of Behavioural and Electro-physiological Studies on Auditory Processing and Speech Perception in Autism Spectrum Disorders Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 5.2 701 14 Google Scholar

Headlam, Dave. “Learning to Hear Autistically.” Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music. Ed. Neil Lerner and Joseph N. Straus. New York and London: Routledge, 2006. 109–20. Print. Learning to Hear Autistically Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music 109 20 Google Scholar

Heaton, Pamela. “Interval and Contour Processing in Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 35.6 (2005): 787–93. Print. Interval and Contour Processing in Autism Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 35.6 787 93 Google Scholar

—, Kerry Williams, Omar Cummins, and Francesca G. E. Happé. “Beyond Perception: Musical Representation and On-line Processing in Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37.7 (2007): 1355–60. Print. Beyond Perception: Musical Representation and On-line Processing in Autism Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37.7 1355 60 Google Scholar

Honing, Henkjan. “Musicality as an Upbeat to Music: Introduction and Research Agenda.” The Origins of Musicality. Ed. Henkjan Honing. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018. 3–20 Print. Musicality as an Upbeat to Music: Introduction and Research Agenda The Origins of Musicality 3 20 Google Scholar

Kanner, Leo. “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.” Nervous Child 2.3 (1943): 217–50. Print. Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact Nervous Child 2.3 217 50 Google Scholar

Kern, Petra, Nicole R. Rivera, Alie Chandler, and Marcia Humpal. “Music Therapy Services for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Survey of Clinical Practices and Training Needs.” Journal of Music Therapy 50.4 (2013): 274–303. Print. Music Therapy Services for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Survey of Clinical Practices and Training Needs Journal of Music Therapy 50.4 274 303 Google Scholar

Malloch, Stephen N. “Mothers and Infants and Communicative Musicality.” Musicae Scientiae 3.1 Suppl. (1999): 29–57. Print. Mothers and Infants and Communicative Musicality Musicae Scientiae 3.1 29 57 Google Scholar

Mottron, Laurent, I. Peretz, and E. Menard. “Local and Global Processing of Music in High-functioning Persons with Autism: Beyond Central Coherence?” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 41.8 (2000): 1057–65. Print. Local and Global Processing of Music in High-functioning Persons with Autism: Beyond Central Coherence? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 41.8 1057 65 Google Scholar

Nordoff, Paul and Clive Robbins. “Improvised Music for Autistic Children.” Music Journal 23.8 (1965): 39, 67. Print. Improvised Music for Autistic Children Music Journal 23.8 67 Google Scholar

North, Elmer. “Music Therapy as an Important Treatment Modality with Psychotic Children.” Journal of Music Therapy 3 (1966): 22–24. Print. Music Therapy as an Important Treatment Modality with Psychotic Children Journal of Music Therapy 3 22 24 Google Scholar

O’Connell, Thomas S. “The Musical Life of an Autistic Boy.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 4.3 (1974): 223–29. Print. The Musical Life of an Autistic Boy Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 4.3 223 29 Google Scholar

Ornitz, Edward M. and Edward R. Ritvo. “Perceptual Inconstancy in Early Infantile Autism: The Syndrome of Early Infant Autism and Its Variants including certain Cases of Childhood Schizophrenia.” Archives of General Psychiatry 18.1 (1968): 76–98. Print. Perceptual Inconstancy in Early Infantile Autism: The Syndrome of Early Infant Autism and Its Variants including certain Cases of Childhood Schizophrenia Archives of General Psychiatry 18.1 76 98 Google Scholar

Quintin, Eve-Marie, Anjali Bhatara, Hélène Poissant, Eric Fombonne, and Daniel J. Levitin. “Processing of Musical Structure by High-functioning Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Child Neuropsychology 19.3 (2013): 250–75. Print. Processing of Musical Structure by High-functioning Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders Child Neuropsychology 19.3 250 75 Google Scholar

Samson, Fabienne, Krista L. Hyde, Armando Bertone, Isabelle Soulières, Adrianna Mendrek, Pierre Ahad, Laurent Mottron, and Thomas A. Zeffiro. “Atypical Processing of Auditory Temporal Complexity in Autistics.” Neuropsychologia 49.3 (2011): 546–55. Atypical Processing of Auditory Temporal Complexity in Autistics Neuropsychologia 49.3 546 55 Google Scholar

Sheerer, Martin, Eva Rothman, and Kurt Goldstein. A Case of “Idiot Savant”: An Experimental Study of Personality Organization. Evanston, IL: American Psychological Association, 1945. Print. A Case of “Idiot Savant”: An Experimental Study of Personality Organization Google Scholar

Sherwin, Albert C. “Reactions to Music of Autistic (Schizophrenic) Children.” American Journal of Psychiatry 109.11 (1953): 823–31. Print. Reactions to Music of Autistic (Schizophrenic) Children American Journal of Psychiatry 109.11 823 31 Google Scholar

Stevens, Emily and Frank Clark. “Music Therapy in the Treatment of Autistic Children.” Journal of Music Therapy 6 (1969): 98–104. Print. Music Therapy in the Treatment of Autistic Children Journal of Music Therapy 6 98 104 Google Scholar

Straus, Joseph N. “Autism as Culture.” The Disability Studies Reader. Ed. Lennard J. Davis. New York: Routledge, 2010. 535–59. Print. Autism as Culture The Disability Studies Reader 535 59 Google Scholar

—. “Idiots Savants, Retarded Savants, Talented Aments, Mono-savants, Autistic Savants, Just Plain Savants, People with Savant Syndrome, and Autistic People who are Good at Things: A View from Disability Studies.” Disability Studies Quarterly 34.3 (2014). Web. 20 Mar. 2018. Idiots Savants, Retarded Savants, Talented Aments, Mono-savants, Autistic Savants, Just Plain Savants, People with Savant Syndrome, and Autistic People who are Good at Things: A View from Disability Studies Disability Studies Quarterly 34.3 Google Scholar

Thaut, Michael H. “Measuring Musical Responsiveness in Autistic Children.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 18.4 (1988): 561–71. Print. Measuring Musical Responsiveness in Autistic Children Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 18.4 561 71 Google Scholar

Trevarthen, Colwyn. “Musicality and the Intrinsic Motive Pulse: Evidence from Human Psychobiology and Infant Communication.” Musicae Scientiae 3.1 (2000): 155–215. Print. Musicality and the Intrinsic Motive Pulse: Evidence from Human Psychobiology and Infant Communication Musicae Scientiae 3.1 155 215 Google Scholar

Walser, Robert. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1993. Print. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Details

Author details

Fessenden, Jon William