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The Child as MusicianA handbook of musical development$
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Gary E. McPherson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198744443

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198744443.001.0001

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The potential impact of autism on musical development

The potential impact of autism on musical development

(p.122) Chapter 7 The potential impact of autism on musical development
The Child as Musician

Adam Ockelford

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the relationship between autism and musical development. It is suggested that autism creates an “exceptional early cognitive environment,” which presents challenges for children’s language acquisition and use, and affects their ability to grasp the functional significance of everyday sounds, which may be processed primarily in terms of their perceptual qualities. At the same time, music is ubiquitous in the lives of many children, and (unlike language) it is self-referencing in nature; the meaning of music lies in the relationships between sounds rather than in their capacity to convey symbolic information. These factors create a tendency among some autistic children for all sounds to be processed as music. This cognitive style has a number of consequences, including a high incidence of absolute pitch (“AP”) among those on the spectrum, and the tendency of such children to teach themselves to play by ear, given access to an appropriate instrument.

Keywords:   autism, autism spectrum, musical development, absolute pitch, play by ear, language cognitive style

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