Updated: Mar 13
Are we ignoring a wealth of talent from artists with disabilities?
Discrimination against and marginalization of musicians with disabilities is a real problem that needs to be addressed. In An Open Letter To The Music Industry – And A Call To Action, violinist Gaelynn Lea describes her experience as a musician with a disability and her struggle to receive accommodations.
Gaelynn Lea is physically disabled, but these struggles extend to the mentally disabled as well. For example, professional tennis player Naomi Osaka has brought attention recently to the possibilities of accommodations being provided for athletes suffering from social phobia during press conferences.
Like Osaka, many musicians have been known to suffer from performance anxiety. Perhaps it would benefit stage performers to have a discussion addressing how to accommodate them.
Disabilities can affect individuals very differently. Further, there are a number of physical and psychological disabilities.
One of these psychological disabilities is autism.
What is autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological developmental disorder that affects approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States.
According the CDC, "People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things."
People with ASD perceive and interact with the world differently than others. These differences can create certain challenges. These challenges have been discussed a lot.
Today, I'd like to talk about the advantages of being autistic in the music world and why we may be missing out on undeveloped talent.
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A Unique Approach
Neurodiverse people (those with different brain wiring than neurotypical people) bring a unique approach to music creation and performance.
Autistic people, for example, often excel at recognizing patterns. Because music is based on melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns, autistic individuals are able to approach music in ways that are natural for him or her and yet different than others.
One of the behavior features of people with ASD is repetitive behavior. Repetition is the glue that holds a piece of music together and makes it cohesive. Through repetition, autistic people are able to relate to music in a unique way that promotes an "outside of the box" approach of innovation and musical expression.
Predictability and stability make music more accessible than unpredictability. Autistic people tend to thrive on predictability and certainty. Consequently, people with ASD can often relate to this aspect of music better than most.
We all could benefit greatly from these unique approaches and perspectives in music creation and performance.
And we've benefited greatly from the many musicians and composers who have been diagnosed with ASD or who have been suspected of having it – James Taylor and Michael Jackson just to name two.
In fact, many suspect W.A. Mozart had ASD, although there is no way to know for sure because autism wasn't recognized or diagnosed during his lifetime.
A Change in Strategy
Autism advocate Temple Grandin sees certain flaws in our current system of education with regard to autism. She proposes creating a system in which educators build on children's strengths and style of learning instead of the traditional method that has failed to produce the very best results for everyone.
In other words, instead of trying to conform all individuals to the same system of learning, Dr. Grandin believes in an educational approach that adjusts to the unique gifts of the individual. This is the type of approach that looks past individual weaknesses and targets their strengths.
This simply means that we should consider the possibility that we are not spending enough time assessing the potential of autistic people or people with other disabilities.
Everyone has challenges. But more importantly, everyone has talents. We should never judge anyone on the basis of their deficits.
Do you agree with Temple Grandin? Do you think we should do better and help all individuals reach their potential? Let me know in the comments...