[Smt-talk] Opportunities for autistic musician?

Dave Headlam dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu
Fri Jan 8 03:59:42 PST 2010

Dear Karen:  I have written an article called ³Learning to Hear
Autistically² in the recent collection ³Sounding Off:  Theorizing Disability
in Music² (which has many other excellent articles, including a couple on
autism and perfect pitch as well as other musical abilities), and I would
recommend the writings of Temple Grandin and Oliver Sacks, as well as the
many in the references / notes in the book, and the website of the music
theory interest group on disability:
http://web.gc.cuny.edu/disabilityinmusic.   There are many online groups and
information available.

  Autistic people have trouble with transitions, so the best thing is to
prepare for any change or anything new way in advance, by talking about it
in ³social story² settings, laying out everything that will happen and
especially telling the person what is expected of her/him.  A structured
environment is very helpful ‹ with routines that lend stability and
predictability to situations.   I think you will find that little is beyond
this young man, he just requires preparation beyond what we are used to, and
a little more time to respond.

Dave Headlam

On 1/7/10 11:36 AM, "Karen De Mol" <Kdemol at dordt.edu> wrote:

> Dear SMT readers:
> I would appreciate suggestions to help me guide an autistic student.  Here's
> our situation:  
> We have among us a young man who could be called a high-functioning autistic
> person.  He graduated from high school last spring, with much special
> education;  he and his parents are interested in some sort of college work,
> and this past semester he was allowed to audit Music Theory I, to sing in a
> choir, and to take piano and voice lessons.  He has a marvelous baritone
> voice, and does well in the choir and in voice lessons.  In music theory, he
> did well through rudiments;  his mind could easily handle factual material
> such as writing scales, identifying intervals, constructing triads, etc.
> However, he could not handle material that involves judgement calls, such as
> writing two-voice counterpoint or choosing simple chord progressions.
> Instead, he wrote song arrangements which he was hearing in his head;  because
> he has perfect pitch, he could write them accurately.  Some are lovely pieces;
> in fact, our choir sang one in its Christmas concert.  However, what he hears
> and writes is how the piece stays;  he could not handle making any
> compositional changes suggested by a teacher.
> He is a personable young man.  We would all so like to help him to use his
> musical gifts, and to develop them if possible.  However, we can see that
> continuing music theory in a class setting won't work for him, and certainly
> general education college courses such as history and philosophy are beyond
> him.  An actual college degree won't be an option for him.
> Can any of you suggest music opportunities for such a person, or means of
> learning, which we could suggest to help him use and develop his music in a
> happy and productive adulthood?
> with thanks,
> Karen A. DeMol
> Dordt  College
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> rg


 Dave Headlam
 Professor of Music Theory
 Joint Professor of Electrical Engineering
 Eastman School of Music
 26 Gibbs St
 Rochester, NY 14604
 (585) 274-1568 office
 dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu

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