This post is in the Autistic Spectrum Disorders category

Presented here are a set of my own traits as I have been able to identify them.  They relate to the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome and refer to many posts within the Insights and Implications sections of this document. There are other cognitive factors that are explored within the text but this is a start.

Executive Functions catch a wide range of issues

Executive Functions
General Executive functions are the central organisational and “overseeing” aspects of cognition. Asperger’s syndrome criteria and diagnostic tools recognise many aspects of this as being impaired.
Rigid Thinking and inflexibility I crave certainty and control. I need to know what will happen and if this is not possible I vacillate between denial and extreme anxiety. Routines are very important to me.

Importantly, musical situations appear to be where I feel most flexible, open to suggestion and able to deal with changes. It is a therapy all its own

Time I tend to live a day at a time and have difficulty planning.  I have learned to force myself, and calendars and to-do lists have become increasingly important in my work, now that I cognitively understand that it is a problem!

I very easily lose track of time due to an intense focus on what ever I’m doing.  It is very difficult to switch from one activity to another if there is no external force.

Resources Finances have been a constant issue.  This is a common issue related to the ability to plan and prioritise.
Theory of Mind The ability to know intuitively about the experience of another is defined as theory of mind.  My own weaknesses in this area often manifest as a lack of perspective taking.  I find it very difficult to be conscious of another’s understanding.  For example, thinking about telling my partner about an event, appointment etc, will frequently result in not actually saying anything, because my mental assumption seems to be that she already knows.

This also manifests in the studio, as I find it difficult to take the point of view of musicians and others in the session into account.  Mostly this comes across as lack of empathy and I have been criticised for driving too hard.

Central and Local Coherence, or the ability to balance large scale and small scale perceptions, the details and the Gestalt are commonly affected in Asperger’s and HFA.

Central / Local Coherence
General Strong local and weaker central coherence generally manifests as a focus and fascination with detail rather than the gestalt.  Musically this often means that I have minimal interest in form and tend to concentrate on the moment by moment texture.
Detail Focus It is all too easy to become stuck on one sound in composition or mix. Musical and life partners have been known to express their frustrations“How can you just go on and on and on with that one sound for hours?”

Strong ability to hear and become fascinated with tiny things.  My music tends to be very detailed, even if it’s just an underscore.  I know that most people won’t hear the detail in the context, but if it’s not there, I am completely unsatisfied.

Gestalt Finding the big picture can be hard. This can result in literal interpretation of communications, whether they be written or oral.

I force myself to deal with musical form that is satisfying for others.  A three minute pop song is OK but longer than that I tend to go for a pretty linear structure.  Sonata form baffles me – I like the sound and will happily ignore the structure!

Communicating Faces are a bit of a problem because I tend to look at part of the face rather than the whole.  A smiling mouth is a smile because it’s bigger than those lying eyes.

Impairments in “reciprocal social interactions” is a primary part of the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome. Music is frequently made and received in a social situation, so exploring this aspect has been of prime concern to this research.

Social Interactions
General Often told I have been rude and have no idea why.  Sometimes I realise myself that I put my foot in it, but often I just can’t see how I may have offended someone. The link here wasn’t me, but it illustrates the point nicely. This relates to empathy.

I see everyone as an equal and am not impressed by authority.  I assert my right to interact with anyone. On the other hand I have trouble dealing with the circle of acquaintance around me.  Who is a friend and who is a colleague?

I sometimes find myself rabbiting on about things I know and force myself to stop, then can’t find anything in common with anyone to say.  In the kitchen at parties.

Empathy Empathy is impaired.  There are multiple domains of empathy and my profile fits the phenotype identified for Asperger people.

The studio environment seems to be a catalyst for better empathy however.

Social Boundaries I am told that I tell people too much about personal things, such as money and family. Sometimes I find myself doing this and can’t seem to stop myself, knowing that my other half will be unimpressed.

The studio offers a known environment for interaction and is somewhat “safer”

Difficulties in recognising, regulating and expressing emotion is a central part of this investigation. Music is an affective experience for most people, but my own experience is quite different.

General Text – alexithymia
Anxiety Problems with depression as a co-morbidity Anxiety ,

I can tolerate so much and then explode, or implode. Alexithymia makes it difficult to interpret physical signs as indicators of emotional state.  Many Aspies tend to be more highly aroused emotionally than they think they are. See the thermometer on this page.

Music In Listening to and loving music is an intellectual rather than emotional connection for me. I am very rarely moved by music, although in combination with vision or drama or narrative I become very aroused.
Music Out I am however emotional during the composition process. These are the most emotionally intense experiences I have.

Communication of ideas and affect, especially non-verbal communication is a key area of the diagnostic criteria.  It is also an area where many adolescent and adult Aspies find workarounds.

General Text
Tone of Voice I am not very good with tone of voice, so sarcasm and irony tend to get lost, especially in casual conversation. I can pick it in a TV show or movie – it seems to be more a problem when something personal is at stake. People often thinkI believe everything I say, but frequently I am simply explaining a possible alternative point of view.   Either I sound very convincing or my tone is generally neutral.
Faces I did not realise how big an issue this is for me until I began studying video tapes of my interactions.  I tend to ignore faces, and miss a lot of subtle detail, especially when there is verbal communication happening at the same time.

I am told one side of my face is virtually immobile, as if I have suffered a stroke. I take ages to learn the faces of students and seem to require a significant interaction before I remember people.

I am frequently concerned that I might not recognise my children if they are out of my sight, EG. At shopping centre with Mum. I stress about what they are wearing (can’t remember).  I cannot bring a face to my mind, it’s just a blob with hair.

Seem to be good at figuring out subtext on TV, although I think my eye for detail and the dramaturgy of meaning making

Literal thought A strong local coherence means that my attention gets “grabbed” by single words or concepts and I lose the context of a conversation.  In teaching this manifests as a tendency to tangent.

Sensory anomalies are a lessor understood aspect of the experience of autistic people.

Sensory sensitivities
Auditory I can listen to and work with high volumes in the studio and hear with great detail.  Conversely the sound of voices, eg at the dining table is often too intense and causes a sense of distortion in my ears, or even pain at times. Sensitivity is related to the type of sound rather than the amount of it.

On occasion, my perception of sound is “fractured“.  Time gets out of order and sounds back up on each other.  Frequency content can also be split up, so I hear the bass frequencies before the upper ones.

Absolute Pitch. I’m not as absolute as I used to be as a child. I would find it really annoying if a song on the radio was not playing at correct speed (a fairly common production technique at the time)

Visual On occasion sounds or music alter my colour perception. Like many of the traits listed here, this synaesthesia is contextual, related to stress, health etc.

Sounds are easily visualised as three dimensional objects, so I can describe them in detail.

I am rather sensitive to light, and squint closely when in the sun.  I have worn sunglasses in the past but keep losing them …

I used to have strong photographic memory as a child, I could “read” full paragraphs of text from a mind image.

Tactile Frequent episodes of hypersensitivity of skin particularly on forearms and backs of hands to the point that I can’t stand anything to touch skin.  It feels like burning.

I wear clothes that are comfortable rather than choosing matching colours.  My wife has learned how to point this out without causing offence (mostly).

Many individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome or HFA have problems with Motor function, including gross, fine and involuntary muscle control

Motor Function
General Motor function covers general movement, fine control of fingers for example hand writing, vestibular control (balance and position in space) and involuntary or habitual movements. I have some difficulty in co-ordinating left and right hands.  I gave up trying to learn the piano or guitar, although saxophone works OK.  The trombone is nice because the gesture matches the change in sound so nicely …

I’m a bit clumsy, certainly not a match for my son at soccer or cricket, but not too bad.  I see a guy every day who can’t get his speed of walking right.  He looks like he’s really rushing and then stops abruptly when he reaches the person who meets him everyday. Then he matches pace.  This along with a few other physical signs such as eye contact suggests that he may also be an Aspie.

Stimming Stimming is pretty common in a range of mental “disorders”. This is often interpreted as boredom or inattention but is in fact a largely involuntary way to heighten internal arousal to the point that I can function properly. It looks like an inability to be still.  Pill rolling with fingertips and leg shaking are almost constant, but I can force these movements “inside” if I am aware that it is not “socially appropriate”. Inside, these physical movements become mental arithmetic or repeated phrase or melodies. They they may quickly become earworms.

Earworms and brainloops are “stuck” sounds, phrases or songs.  Everyone has them to some degree – long-term (hours and hours or days) is a problem.

Looking back through this lists suggests a litany of minor complaints.  Everyone could compile a list like this.  And that’s partly the point of doing the list in the first place.  Everyone has “quirks“.  Asperger’s Syndrome however means that the cognitive profile impairs normal functioning. Not so much “a bit like that sometimes” as “a lot like that most of the time”.  In many cases these traits are underlying and a conscious effort is being made to hide them or to work through them.

Some of these traits are useful to a musician – can be built upon and provide fresh ideas and insights. Others get in the way and require work to deal with. As you read through the dissertation, the impact of these aspects will become clearer.

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