Friday, 10 January 2014

Autism, Music and Me!

For a very long time now, I've wanted to write something about my freaky connection to music and finally I seem to have gotten around to it!

I have high-functioning autism with a savant profile.   The first thing to say is that everyone with autism is different.  No two autistic people are going to be the same and neither will they have the same skills, abilities or difficulties.   Believe it or not, we are individuals!

Most autistic people do not have savantism.   I sometimes think that, since Rainman, the non-autistic world just assumes that all autistic people have special skills (which are usually linked to savantism).  This is simply not true.  In fact, I forget off hand what the statistics are (Google is your friend on this!) but it's actually quite low as an overall statistic.  And so, although it's true to say that SOME autistic people have savant skills, it's probably more true to say that most don't.

When I was a very tiny child, it was noticed that I had a very freaky ability to hear something played on the radio, on the piano, and then sit at our knocked-about old upright piano and repeat the entire thing from beginning to end.   This caused no small degree of consternation and curiosity and it was finally realized that, although I was pretty useless at nearly everything else (!), I could indeed play the piano!  And so I was sent off to piano lessons which, at first, were something of a disaster as, even at four years of age, I was pretty sure I knew better than the teacher regarding "what Bach might have meant!"  (where's the embarrassed smiley when you need it!)   But finally I found a very understanding teacher who could put up with my somewhat odd ways and encouraged me heartily and finally I, too, realized that playing the piano would probably save my life in many ways.

Playing allows me to express emotion in a way that I just never can verbally.   Autistic people do feel emotion, whatever the textbooks would have you believe, but we can often have difficulty in knowing how to appropriately express that emotion.

My "connection" to music is odd in many ways and misunderstood by others all of the time.   Yes, I can do a great party trick - you can play me some record of a pianist playing whatever, and I will then sit down and play the entire thing back to you but... and this really is a huge but...  I will play it back in exactly the same way as the pianist played it.   Good OR bad!  If the pianist has made mistakes, I will replicate those same mistakes (yes, I HEAR that they are wrong, but I still play them!), the expression in the piece I will play is not MY expression, it is the expression I have heard from the original pianist.

This ability does not make me a great pianist - it makes me a reasonably good  mimic.  And there really is a her-yuge difference!

It was also discovered that I had perfect pitch and this, I must say, is another bug bear of mine!  Yes, it's a great thing to have in many ways, just one of those things you're born with and not a talent or skill but, if you ever want to sing in a choir, or play in an orchestra, prepare to suffer terrible headaches if anyone is remotely off-key (and they often are!) and prepare to be glared at if you dare to point this out to them!!

I intend to post shorter posts in future, with some uploads of various things I've played, and to talk about various different issues which affect and confront the autistic pianist and I really hope that people may ask questions that  I can also have a go at answering.

If you have a child with autism who has a particular ability musically - ENCOUARGE THEM and then encourage them some more.   I do not see the savant aspects of my autism as a disability, I see them as a true gift, something which enhances my life, gives me great pleasure and allows me to find a way through this slightly strange neuro-typical (non-autistic) world that most other people inhabit!