Music: a unique window to the world of autism
By Lirio Sobrevinas-Covey, Ph.D.
Music is a universal source of enjoyment. It evokes memories, connects us with the experiences of others, can touch deep emotions within ourselves that are difficult to access, and can promote relaxation and calm.
Thus, I found it especially gratifying and exciting to read of a distinctive role of music in the experience of autistic individuals. Deficits in recognizing emotions in other persons’ voices, faces, and postures, and verbal difficulties, known to characterize most persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can be bypassed in the domain of music.
Reporting on their review of several behavioral and neurological studies that compared children with and without ASD, investigators from UCLA found that deficits of the ASD group in emotional recognition of others do not generalize when the stimulus is music. It is noted that the ASD participants in the studies were predominantly rated as high-functioning.
The likely biological basis of this phenomenon was identified to be the anterior insula, an area in the brain.
As a form of nonverbal communication that is practically available and emotionally accessible to persons with ASD, music would provide specially rewarding stimuli, pointing to the potential role of music as a therapeutic avenue for enhancing the quality of life and personal growth of persons with ASD.
Reference: Music: a unique window into the world of autism. Ivan Molnar-Szakacs & Pamela Heaton, Annals NY Academy of Sciences, the Neurosciences and Music IV, Learning and Memory, April 2012, pages 218-324. ..