This research and dissertation has explored music making from the point of view of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Conversely, it has also provided a musician’s view of Asperger’s Syndrome.
Several authors cited in this dissertation have called for research from “within the spectrum” for its power to expose inner realities and experiences. This is the value of autoethnography as a research method and the constant “in, then out” focus of the investigation is very powerful. This dissertation, through its investigative methods and through its innovative semi-linear and media-rich presentation, seeks to offer a window for the reader to also look both in, then out, and to respond on both an intellectual and empathic level. This is one of the main contributions this dissertation aims to make.
Utilising autoethnography and the observation of self and collaborators, I have examined the manifestations of the major domains of high functioning autism – Executive Function and Local Coherence, Empathy, Emotion Regulation, Communication and Sensory issues, and provided insights into their impact upon my own musical process and daily life.
In the field of music studies and creativity research, this study has provided an insight into creative perceptions and processes that are somewhat unusual, but is often the unusual that improves understanding of the usual. The observations provided here, from the inside, add to the work of those looking at neuroscientific mechanics of musical function observing the “normal” and “atypical” musical brain from the outside. It is widely accepted that innovative ideas often come from those who “think differently”. In the musical context, this research offers encouragement to those who do think differently to pursue their musical goals. It also points out the areas where innate skills are likely to cluster in those with heightened autistic traits and how these are of benefit in particular areas of musical process, including composition, sound design and audio production.
I draw attention to some of the studies that inspired the project to go the direction that it did, particularly Brigitte Chamak, Pamela Heaton and Rory Allen, to whose research into the individual experiences of autistic people, and particularly their musical experiences, I hope I have added.
I am a composer, not a psychologist, but I hope that my approach to the research via autoethnography, and the presentation of a “way of thinking” through the media of text, image, sound and the hyperlink gives some clues into the ways in which a mind can work.
The apparent relationships between social empathy, alexithymia and the experience of music in composition and listening modes may provide some momentum for further study in this area, and the ability to create evocative music despite impairments in emotional perception is of significance in assessing the nature of emotional content in music and how it works as a vehicle for affect. The role of creative musical process in the temporary elevation of empathic skills also has implications for therapy and for education, especially in relation to providing environments when the autistic personalty may be “at his best”. I hope that researchers investigating empathy deficits will be able to verify these observations through other means, but also will consider the use of autoethnographic and self-observation techniques, especially with adults, as part of intervention strategies. As an adult, high-functioning Asperger with clinical levels of autistic traits, I hope that my story and the ways that I have found to work around or compensate for “impairment”, may be of use to others with similar impairments and those who share their lives.
My mind is not defective. It is different.
I accept myself for who I am.
I am capable of getting along with society.
I ask for help when I need it.
I am worthy of others’ respect and acceptance.
I will be patient with those who need time to understand me.
I will build my career on my abilities and interests.
I will share.
I make music that speaks to people.
I use my mind.
to Create a Virtual Heart.
Adapted from (Willey, 2001, p. 164)