Autism and Music: sounds interesting!

**Update 18.10.2021: Thank to all for the beautiful and terrible comments from both Neurodivergent and Neurotypical folk. I have been misunderstood my entire life so it just makes me feel that I will probably be misunderstood my entire life.

For people not diagnosed with Autism, it may seem difficult to understand how someone diagnosed with Autism feels and thinks since most people cannot experience what it’s like to have friends or family members who cannot recognize specific signals or signs that can help guide them through their everyday tasks. However, society must understand what autistic friends and family members go through as this is the only way to help them manage their struggle with Autism.

Specific instruments

A typical example of this struggle is how those who have Autism often take music differently than others. For most neurotypical (i.e., non-autistic) people, it’s often the first thing that comes to mind when describing emotion and mood. However, most autistics are less affected by music because they don’t view things the same way others do. Rather than associating songs with emotions or memories, it’s more likely for an autistic person to associate specific instruments with different types of mood instead of just one kind of mood or emotion. However, this means that songs without the proper instruments cannot invoke the same feelings in autistic people. This is why music therapists need to note which instruments each autistic person responds best when using as a form of treatment.

Sensitive to volume

This also correlates with how autistics are more sensitive to volume than neurotypicals because they process noise differently. Since most neurotypical people enjoy loud noises, they tend to turn up their stereos higher than someone might be capable of handling since they can endure more harsh sounds. In contrast, an autistic person exposed to louder volumes would likely negatively affect their health or wellness even though they can’t comprehend why loud noises bother them so much. Hence, this is why music therapy on autistics must note the volume levels they use to produce the instruments and what types of effects specific volumes have on them during treatment sessions.

Different forms of Autism

In addition to that, there are three main types of Autism – classic Autism, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder – each with its unique signs and symptoms. Since every autistic person has a different way of thinking than a neurotypical person, music therapists need to focus more on individualized treatment based upon each patient rather than basing it off one piece or method since some may not work out properly for those who suffer from different forms of Autism.          

Music therapy

Overall, music therapy can help autistic people better cope with their emotions and can even act as a method of communication. However, music therapists need to note that not all autistics will respond the same way to music that neurotypicals usually do. Because every autistic person has different tastes in instruments and ways of thinking, they need to focus on these details when dealing with patients who have been diagnosed with Autism.

Day 11 post failed suicide attempt – familiarity breeds contempt

5:00am

Nurse checks blood pressure.

Breakfast.

Shower.

The Psychiatrist informs the staff to tell me that he would only visit at 19:00 that evening. The Psychologist will only visit me at 15:00, so I have the morning to myself.

I start to work on what the Psychiatrist asked the previous day, and I try to ‘see’ if any of my family members present with behavior which might suggest that they are on the spectrum.

I was never close to my siblings, always felt like the outcast. The outsider, the weird one, the dreamer, the talker, the strange kid. I was always alone…

I have 3 brothers and 1 sister, I am the 4th child. I remember that I always asked questions. I always wondered about things, I was interested in how things worked and why they are the way they are. I hoped to get answers from my siblings but I soon realized that they became annoyed with me asking so many questions. I was told to keep quiet, stop asking questions and I was ignored. I was shunned from the rest of them and kind of dismissed as the creepy weirdo kid. I ended up reading the encyclopedia and books and magazines to quench my thirst for knowledge.

I would then go back to my siblings and would try to tell them about the interesting things I learnt but they would always just tell me to keep quiet, to stop talking.

I felt the distance grow between me and my brothers and sister over the years. I got this feeling that they didn’t like me, and I could never understand why.

Now, 4 decades later with the knowledge that I am actually different in an amazing way, I feel better about the lonely journey I had. I feel better about the fact that they showed no interest in me. I understand why I felt like an only child with absent parents. I am at peace now with myself. It is strange that ‘familiarity breeds contempt‘ in my life was actually ‘being unfamiliar with your brother and his autism breeds contempt‘.

Thinking about them now trying to identify autistic traits is easy, none of them have it, they are as normal as can be. I do see it in my extended family but not in my immediate family, they are all neurotypical, typically typical.

I am glad I never did fit in, and I am glad I can now stand out!

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Lunch

The Psychologist arrives and we start talking about my current mental state. How do I feel? Mentally, physically, emotionally, how do I feel?

Physically? I feel rested. I feel healthy. I feel great.

Emotionally? I feel strange. I feel like my effort to match emotions to facial features my entire life in order to read people has drained me. I feel relieved that I can now pay attention to how my emotions affect me and how others and their emotions affect me. I struggle to have sympathy and empathy display on my face, but I do feel it. In fact, I feel more intense than normal people. I feel that I would need time to process my emotional baggage I carry with me after 2 failed marriages and 2 divorces. At least I feel, I actually feel EVERYTHING all the time…

Mentally? I am strong! I have a fantastic mental gift which I never knew existed! I am only starting to discovery the immense power of my mind! I am absolutely overwhelmed with joy just thinking of the possibilities I can uncover with my new super power! My mind is a powerful resource and I can use it to solve problems! I am very very very happy!

The Psychologist tries to warn me that my happiness may be too much. I need to watch out for a relapse. I need to take it easy, I would need therapy for a long time to align my ego-states and to make sure I’m really coping.

I picked up a shift in his voice and his gaze and his body language. The air changed, his mood changed, he became colder and a bit distant. I know, he wanted longevity in this therapy approach between us. He wanted a patient for an extended period of time. Mmm…. He wanted money.

We spent so many hours talking through my experience and I made great progress and I was relieved that I have received an answer to my lifelong question. And this guy sitting in front of me starts to plan his future income stream? Well, well, well, it does seem to me that he became too familiar with me and now I do not like him, so….’his familiarity breeds my contempt’….

We finish the session and he leaves.

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Dinner

Shower

Psychiatrist arrives and we talk about the physical sensations of having dopamine and serotonin stabilizing. We double check that we are both happy with my prescription medicine and the dosage and the way I function. We agree that we have found the sweet spot with the pills. We chat about my family and my experience of being ‘different’ growing up. He assures me that my future would now be light and in focus and would make sense. He talks to me, he actually talks to me as if I am worthy of being spoken to. He listens to me and he believes me. He tells me that I need to start thinking about my career history and my current career choice. He has a feeling that I might have never really done what I am actually good at, and perhaps I need to take a look at what passions or interests of mine I had to bury in the past in order to ‘fit in’. I may want to revisit those ideas 🙂

We finish the session and I have a cup of coffee. I like the Psychiatrist more than the Psychologist.

I take my medication, get into bed and wait for the bliss that is sleep…

Day 4 post failed suicide attempt – Autistic Savant syndrome

Morning

I wake up the same way as the previous day, nurse taking blood pressure, breakfast, medication, shower, get dressed, wait for the Psychiatrist.

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I do not join the group activity in the hospital, neither do I partake in the arts and crafts sessions. I don’t feel like engaging with the other patients…

The nurse calls me and let’s me know that the Psychologist is here to see me. Okay, well, let’s take a look see, he may be able to assist me with all the new terminology and conditions and symptoms they seem to identify in me. Autism, ADHD, Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder.

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I sit down in the consultation room and we start talking. He asks me the usual questions:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • Did you sleep well?
  • Are you eating okay?
  • How is the wound on your wrist?
  • How are you feeling about Borderline Personality Disorder?
  • How are you feeling about Depression?
  • How are you feeling about ADHD?
  • How are you feeling about Autism?
  • How do feel about how you feel?

Ugh…..sigh…..

With all due respect, I really do not see where any of this is going? I appreciate what Psychologists do to help other people but it is as if I just don’t connect with this guy. He keeps on trying to be my friend. Making jokes, trying to get into my world and sharing similar thoughts and experiences from his own life to make me feel we have something in common. I’ve read everything online about the so-called Borderline Personality Disorder he thinks I present with and I just don’t see it…

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He’s next question got me thinking though…

‘What did the Psychiatrist say about my suspicion that you present with BPD?” he asks.

‘Nothing.’ I reply, and I watch his face. He seems disappointed. He dropped his shoulders a bit, even leaned forward slightly in a kind of a slouch. His eyes drifted towards the carpet and he held his breath for 2 seconds, as if he wanted to say something, but then decided against it and exhaled.

I got the distinct feeling that he wanted validation from the Psychiatrist rather than trying to figure out why I tried to commit suicide. This struck me as odd.

He started to explain to me that humans are like computers and that the Psychiatrist focused on the hardware and he focused on the software.

I nodded and after a minute or two our session was over for that morning.

‘I’ll see you again tonight and then we’ll chat about your childhood.’ he smiled.

‘Sure, let’s…’ I replied.

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Afternoon

I had lunch. Alone. Not keen to engage with the other patients, my head felt pre-occupied.

The Psychiatrist visited just after dinner. I told him about my session with the Psychologist and he made a couple of notes on my file. He looked at me and said:’ I want to ask you if you are willing to try Ritalin tomorrow morning, just to see what happens with your thoughts and how you feel. Would you do that for me?’.

I agreed and he left.

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I went to take a shower, and made myself some coffee when the Psychologist arrived.

I took my coffee with me into the consultation room. He asked me to tell him about the first 10 years of my life.

I took a sip of my coffee, thought for a minute on where to start and laid out the first 10 years of my life in extreme detail with vivid memory and recollection of sounds and tastes and events and specifics. I painted a great picture of this narrative: The history of my Life.

He listened and made very little comments, he wrote some notes and thanked me after 30 mins of me and my soliloquy.

I took my medication and I fell into a deep sleep…