This post is in the Educators category

There is some deliberate cross-over between this section and that regarding implications for students, as the awareness of challenges faced by both parties is key. As indicated, educators in higher education are increasingly encountering students with heightened autistic traits or diagnosed ASDs. Because of recent focus on early intervention in western education systems, most primary school teachers are introduced to autism in teacher training, and there is now reasonable access to books and other literature regarding children on the spectrum. However, research into adolescent and adult learners with Asperger’s and HFA is still lagging behind somewhat, despite Gray and Attwood’s (1999) assertions that students with Asperger’s are more likely to enter tertiary study than the general population. A number of excellent resources have been published over recent years that address some of the general of higher education and ASD, including The autism spectrum and further education: a guide to good practice (Breakey, 2006) and Realizing the college dream with autism or Asperger syndrome: a parent’s guide to student success (Palmer, 2006).

The creative industries appear to be a draw card for those who struggle socially.  My current place of work is unusually placed as a private Higher Education provider with a very inclusive intake policy. This gives opportunities to those whose high school grades are not in the top few percent required for most public university courses in creative industries. Consequently, our Bachelor Degree programs have perhaps more than their fair share of observable autistic traits, along with bi-polar, ADHD, dyslexia and other learning difficulties.  This institution though, is indicative of music education’s shift away from a high art focus to more egalitarian and multiple social objectives  (Regelski & Gates, 2009, p. 31).  For example, the department that I head takes in around eighty-five students a year into it’s audio and sound production degree. Some of these students aspire to the highest levels of the recording arts, but others enter with the desire solely to develop and record their own musical expression, without the intention of building a career at an elite level, or even release the music commercially. Their motivation and objective lies on the “left side”  (Swanwick, 1988, p. 60) of music education that emphasises personal creativity over technical prowess.  The variety of choices for post secondary music and sound education continue to grow and the questions of the objectives of that education for individuals and society continue to figure in course development.  Jorgensen  (Jorgensen, 2003, p. 118) extolls the virtues of adopting new ways of approaching diversity in music education, breaking out of rigid thinking about historical practices and empathically looking into the “otherness” of musical experiences around us. These thoughts are echoed by Schippers (Schippers, 2010) and others.

The description in this research of a largely cognitive rather than affective experience of music is akin to an alternative cultural understanding. I have offered my own understandings as a example of a way that is different to the “usual” but may be common in people with similar cognitive profiles.  As an educator myself, I have had to come to terms with the idea that I am teaching students whose experience is different to mine, and understand how those differences “work”.  The implication here is that in any given student, alongside cultural music traditions and differing “requirements” and objectives for learning, there are different modes of experience as well.

The aspect of autistic culture that I believe has the strongest implications for music education as a concept is the finding that “musical empathy” or an affective response to hearing music, is not a requirement for enjoying music or for making music that is capable of transmitting emotion consistently. That same lack of musical empathy may mean that some music students simply do not feel the emotions that others do in response to music, or cannot express it verbally. This may be a cause of concern for a teacher who is highly empathic or intuitive and require adjustment in teaching techniques and expectations.

Further discussion of issues of empathic and cognitive difference is given in the Implications for Researchers, but the following post, Counter Intuition, details some of the key practical issues I have found in dealing with learners with ASD.

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