I ran across an article discussing the benefits of music for autistic people. I'm always pleased to see science studying music, because I think it's a very important and powerful medium. It's also an integral part of my life, to the point that if music didn't exist, I wouldn't be me. Also, I probably wouldn't have made it through college with my sanity mostly intact.
The study talks about improved communication, improved brain connectivity, and family quality life, but not reduced autism severity. Depending on who you ask, those things are connected, and thus the severity of the autism was "improved." As the summary here doesn't formally define autism, it's an open question... but when reading these articles, you always need to keep in mind what the researchers are defining as autism. It may not be the same way you personally define autism. My personal definition is different than that of any given researcher, and that of any given parent.
Growing UpMusic has always featured prominently through my life. When I was very little, my mother would sing to me, not only at bedtime, but also to distract me sufficiently so she could put on my shoes without a fuss. Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms (and other classical masters) often played over the stereo in the living room in whatever house we lived in. Mom didn't do this as part of some plan to increase my IQ or whatever. She has a Masters degree in music, and a great fondness for classical music, and housework was drudgery. So she played various recordings on cassette tape to make the housework more tolerable.
I sang in choirs, of course, and attempted to learn to play various instruments, mostly unsuccessfully (practice time + anxiety disorder + extremely musically literate parents = no actual practice time). As a family we attended church, which meant singing church hymns every Sunday. I memorized many of those over the years, even though we moved between areas (and churches and even denominations). Having them memorized was comforting, because hearing the familiar sequences of hymns at new places helped counter the unfamiliarity.
One of my first "big" presents, as a child, was a stereo. I played many cassette tapes on it, with various kinds of music. I think it was in middle school, or early high school that I received my first portable CD player. It was meant to be used while walking or running, I think. I was never a terribly active child, but I did like having a favorite CD on hand to listen to, with whatever headphones I had onhand. I went through many pairs of headphones, especially once I got an iPod (late high school/early college).
My personal music collection began with just a few CDs in middle school, mostly of classical music or soundscapes. The latter were ostensibly to help me sleep, but in all honesty, I listened to them at any time of day. Their soothing nature was helpful in handling the purgatory known as school. I was introduced to more popular music in high school, of course, and even given a couple CD mixtapes of various favorite songs from people. Which was pretty cool, and is something I enjoy collecting today. I have playlists from about a dozen people, which I treasure even though those people have mostly moved on from my life.
Using Music as Assistive TechnologyListening to music allows me to leave or step aside from my current state of mind and sink into the emotions or message of the music. The interesting thing about music is that there's so many possible ways to interpret a single song, let alone whole albums. Never mind mixtapes and personalized playlists. This was particularly important in college, when the stress and difficulty of life ramped up.
I would get into an artist or a particular album, and listen to that music while walking between classes. When I took exercise classes, I invented playlists to keep myself sane while I pulled my weight around the track, or forced my muscles to dully lift weights over and over. Untangling headphone cords became a way of life, and it was more common to see me wearing headphones than not.
At some point in my childhood, I learned that professional DJs tend to have about 20,000 songs in their music collections. Naturally, the type of music they have depends on what kinds of gigs they run... but having a collection that large appealed to me. At present, my collection is just over 15k songs. They do not follow a theme overall. Large swaths of those songs are from video game soundtracks, because many of those were never licensed and I can therefore not be fined for having them. But the remainder covers every major musical category I'm aware of, from Alternative to World. Metal, Rap, Industrial, Jpop, Electronica, and even Sacred music lurk in my collection. I certainly have favorites and types of music I like less, but on the whole, I consider myself fairly appreciative of most musical styles.
As an adult, I've stopped wearing headphones quite so much... but that's because I have more devices with decent speakers and fewer people around me to annoy by using those speakers. For example, I am currently listening to piano music using my TV, which helps drown out the incessant scream of the vacuum cleaner upstairs. Instead of an iPod (or a phone), I have a tablet larger than both my hands. It has a headphone jack, of course, but it also has decent speakers, which I tend to use instead.
Personal Portable MP3 PlayerOne of the great kindnesses of my life is that even when I'm separated from a device that plays music, my own mind can serve as an MP3 player, to an extent. It's not as flawlessly accurate as an actual MP3 player, so if I don't have the song perfectly memorized, I can't play it in my head perfectly. In the case of songs with words, it rarely matters. I'm word-centric and literalist in mentality, so if the vocal line is intact, the rest follows.
It's an effort to have my mental MP3 player play what I have in mind, but if I don't have something in mind to play, my brain will simply play whatever I'm currently into, or church music, or even something chosen for reasons I don't understand.
I once was having a really hard time in life, struggling to keep my head above metaphorical water between a string of life demands and social occasions I couldn't miss. And for several hours, when I was really feeling the stress, my mental MP3 player opted to play a particular playlist from the epilogue of a years-old D&D game. This playlist had been the "the game's done, you survived and succeeded, here's what happens afterwards" playlist. After thinking about it, I realized my brain was trying to comfort me and tell me to hang in there, because it was almost over.
I can sometimes get a sense for my moods based on what music is playing in my head. Usually it's not as obvious as the above example. As I said, I'm word-centric and a literalist in mentality, meaning that if the song has words, they probably feature first in terms of how I understand the music. So if the words in a song are about a particular subject, or sad overall, I can kind of assume that's why. Even with all that known, I mostly can't figure out why a particular song might be playing. I mostly just shrug at my mental soundtrack, noting what's playing but not understanding why it's playing. I have a lot left to learn on that front.
A Lifelong Effect
I have no doubts I wouldn't be the same person if music hadn't been so involved in my life. I wouldn't have been able to self-soothe in college so easily, which likely would have led to dropping out entirely. That's the easiest example.
Would it have been a struggle every day to put my shoes on, as a little child? Might other simple tasks have been affected by the struggle? Perhaps I would have become a more defiant child. The family dynamics themselves could have been affected, with me being an even larger problem child than I already was. Perhaps the conflict would have spilled over into school, and I might not have graduated high school despite having the ability to do so. Perhaps, without music tying the disparate parts of my brain together, I might not have become as good with words as I am, or learned the coordination necessary to roller skate, or even walk smoothly.
I wasn't terribly social as a child, but being in choirs every year meant a certain amount of built-in socialization in my week, in addition to school. That's a good thing, generally, even though it's tiring. And, high school choir is how I met my spouse-to-be. For about half a year, we were in the same choir in high school. That was just long enough for me to recognize he was a decent sort, and for him to prove it by his actions, which paved the way for our later interactions, discussions, dating, and eventually, marriage.
As an adult, I usually listen to music at least once a day, on the car stereo as I drive places, using my support tablet at home or outside, or using the TV or the computer to access my music library. I would say I don't use music as much as I used to in school, but that's perhaps because there's less commute time involved. When I was in school, there was always the bus ride to and from home, study halls, and the time between classes. In college, there was the 5-15 minute walk between classes, plus study time at home. I still listen to music in the car, but it's drawn from a smaller pool than the 15k songs on my computer. (To be fair, it's not like a CD can hold 83 gigs of data...)
I do still self-soothe using music, though. Hearing familiar music brings to mind the time period of life I listened to that piece most. So, listening to certain punk rock songs reminds me of high school, which helps me work through or recognize being angry, stressed, and sad. Listening to certain choral pieces can remind me of when I was learning them, and, like my father, incline me to sing along as the music plays. Various pop songs remind me more broadly of their eras, and comfort me by being familiar and predictable.
For obvious reasons, I'm kind of alarmed that music classes, choirs, orchestras, and bands are being phased out of schools in favor of expanding sports. Without music, I would not be who I am, and likely wouldn't have gotten as far in life as I have. I'd like it if every person had that opportunity. No exceptions.