Sunday, October 12, 2014

Music and the Magic Show Theory

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There is a new theory about autism and what may cause the stereotypic behaviors and desires for routine and sameness.  The Los Angeles Times has the full story here
Basically, the researchers are suggesting that people with autism experience the world as if they are in a constant state of wonder and high expectation like most people in the middle of a magic show.  If you think about this, it makes a lot of sense.  The authors of the article even admit that it is a "common sense" explanation for some of the attributes commonly ascribed or observed in people with autism spectrum disorder.
The new theory suggests that people with autism are in a constant state of wonder without being able to establish a connection with previous events and what might come next.  In other words, where did the bunny go? - how did it disappear? - and where/when will it pop out??
If a person is constantly put into a constant state of "wonder" it stands to reason that he or she might develop some coping mechanisms to compensate.  It is enjoyable for most to watch a magic show and do other exciting things like riding a roller coaster (okay! - not everyone likes this!), but likely completely overwhelming to maintain that level of excitement for too long.  
Is it possible that people with autism try to establish order by developing repetitive behaviors in the form of "stimming" (e.g., hand flapping, rocking, etc.) or compulsively trying to establish order on the environment in the form of routines or visual patterns?  Is this a form of compensation for the brain's inability to make connections between events and provide context for social interaction and communication?  
If so, it would explain a lot about music and why so many people with autism are not only drawn to music, but seem to enjoy and respond positively to music interaction.  Music naturally imposes structure to time and Western music especially, provides harmonic, rhythmic and melodic predictability.  
If the researchers are on the right track with their theory, it will be interesting to investigate the brain functions related to the specific cognitive tasks for antecedent details and prediction of future events.  And can music be a vehicle for developing the appropriate brain pathways that lead to the acquisition of these skills?
Interesting stuff!  

1 comment:

  1. I think this theory can absolutely make sense! My only point of concern is that although music does have structure, people with autism are not constantly playing one song repetitively. I also want to state that humans in general have some sort of appreciation of music-- maybe people with Autism just have more appreciation since their brain intakes the music differently, meaning that people with Autism have a different musical experience.

    I think it varies on a spectrum depending on how severe their autism is. There are some people with "high functioning" autism that perform above and beyond a regular person would, and there are people with "low functioning" autism that can't speak. I would love to see what data is derived from this research. I actually think music can be a form of coping system for Autism, but not necessarily a cure. Autism deals with the brain function and impacts of the environment; triggers that can cause distress to the person and some genetics.


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