By Trevor Pacelli
It’s a habit for everybody- hop into the car, turn on the radio, and listen to Star 101.5. Study for a test coming up the next day, turn on some music as background noise to get your mind working. Go to the gym, take your iPod with you for mental entertainment. Many people have simply acquired this habit, my family included. My mom always listens to music as she cooks dinner, my dad switches on the radio on in the car, and my sister listens to music as she studies for a class. But as for me, I do not do any of these things. In fact, I almost never listen to music at all.
It may sound strange to some of you. You may be thinking, “So what do you do when you study for a class? Do you just stare at the paper in silence?” Well, to be honest, my answer to that would be yes. Having autism means that my mind works under very different circumstances from everybody else’s. I am not somebody who needs background noise to trigger the gears in my brain. It’s actually the complete opposite. I prefer it to be mostly silent in the room as I work and try to concentrate on something. My mind is already so full and active all the time, that it has no need for extra noise to get motivated. In turn, the extra noise would just be a distraction from my work because I’m just thinking about the noise and not the task I’m trying to focus on.
But this is not the only reason I do not appreciate music as much as the next guy. This is more not necessarily because of my autism, but I am a highly visual learner. I can best pick up information and gain an interest in it if I have something visual to go with it. So with many of the great musical hits, I can't appreciate them because I have never seen a movie or music video to go with it. I am left with the audio entertainment, which does not appeal to me.
This can explain more of my real taste in music, which includes movie soundtracks, Disney songs, and Broadway musical soundtracks. With these genres, I already know what visuals go with the lyrics and music, and therefore can relate to the audio. I do sometimes listen to music, but when I do so, I feel like I have to give my full attention to it, and not just use it as background sound. This dates back to when I was much younger; whenever I was in the car with my Mom, she would play the soundtracks to several musicals including Wicked, The Music Man, Godspell, Seussical, and many others. I would always listen to that music as I had some sort of visual running through my head, sometimes placing cartoon characters in the place of the characters singing. I’m sure I drove my mother crazy with wanting to play the same musical soundtracks in the car over and over again, but it really helped me to set my brain on something while waiting in the car, something usually very difficult for autistic children.
I’m not saying that I hate music or can’t appreciate it, when I listen to the score of some movie or a Disney song I can always be moved by the tone or the lyrics and grasp the meaning of the song. Just keep in mind that this may not be true for all people with autism, my form is just more visually focused, and lacking slightly more in audible cues.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.