Autism and its Musical Savant Abilities

Feb 22 2014 - 2:39pm
autism musical savants
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Talking about autism often means that one considers all the negatives, but the truth is that there are so many positive factors to consider that go unnoticed, it's quite simply a sad sight. Parents may see how special their children are, but an outside often cannot view past the meltdowns, strange needs and seemingly incomprehensible behavior. They forget that autism is a genetic disorder, which is caused by a mutation in one or more genes, though the exact "cause" is of yet unknown.

The Positives of Autism
In a previous article, I presented a very general outline as to why an autistic child might just be the smartest in his or her class. It is prudent to point out that autism means that one is different, though not any less than those deemed neurotypical. Five main reasons were given as to why autism might trump the said neurotypical in both class and life:

  • Intense focus and careful execution: Whereas the average person has a hard time concentrating for long periods and performing repetitive and tedious tasks necessary for many companies to survive, autistic children can become integral parts in data entry and software development sections, making them prized for their ability to focus so completely and execute carefully and meticulously.
  • Arithmetic: Savant individuals, with high IQs but low social functioning, have lightning speed arithmetic skills, making them perfect candidates for any job that requires extensive calculations.
  • Art: replication from memory is a piece of cake for many autistic savants, with the art created with accurate and creative perspectives.
  • Decomposition: When it comes to analytical abilities, the autistic children will outperform their classmates in almost every manner. They are able to break down problems into multiple components until it’s easily understandable, a skill which takes time to develop in the average child.
  • Music: Studies have shown a dumbfounding ability to master complex sequences in music, meaning your child may be amazing as a musician, possibly directing whole symphonies.

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Music in the Life of Autism
The last point mentioned is where I want to draw one's attention. Pitch perception is enhanced among persons with autism. A study researching pitch memory in musically untrained autistic children between the ages of 7 and 13. Both short- and long-term memory were tested, and what was found was rather interesting. These children who were on the spectrum demonstrated much better pitch discrimination abilities in both the single-tone and melodic contexts, meaning they could understand and point out the correct tune in everything from a single note to a whole song, as well as showing superior long-term memory for melody. It was found that this in itself showed a positive relationship with nonverbal fluid reasoning abilities. The study also connects the results to an atypical language development.

Another study claims that "musical savants" are also known to possess absolute pitch. A musical savant is an autistic individual with a high musical affinity and shows incredible abilities that a neurotypical may not. It appears that the reason might be because of an abnormally high sensitivity to fine-grained pitch differences in sounds. 12 high-functioning autistics were tested with 12 neurotypicals, none of whom had been musically trained. Enhanced visual performances also may be added to the pluses an autistic individual displays. The conclusion? Autistic individuals outperform the neurotypicals, particularly the high-functioning.

Perhaps considering a career in music would be the most beneficial. After all, autistic individuals often seem quite suited to the musical world.

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