The Golden Rule

I rarely have a “normal” visit to the doctor. A regular visit introduces phrases such as “huh, well, perhaps you should try wearing a heart monitor for a few weeks” or “I have never seen these frostbite-like symptoms before.” With one exception, my doctors have provided me with medicine to treat my symptoms without getting […]

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Connecting with people with autism through music and the arts

While reading the chapter An Anthropologist on Mars in the book of the same name by Oliver Sacks this week, I started thinking about how museums are engaging people with autism and how they might go even further in the future.

I have heard of some museums that seem to be doing great things for children with autism (such as the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum), but I wondered if museums or other arts organizations have done any performing arts programming for people with autism.

Temple Grandin (professor, author, autistic activist, and engineer), in Sacks’s book, describes how she has absolute pitch (a.k.a. perfect pitch, something some musicians and  non-musicians alike possess, though it seems to be relatively common in people with autism) and a “precise and tenacious musical memory, but, on the whole, music fails to move her.”  [1]  She is a visual thinker and has found her passions in arenas other than music, but she still has some musical abilities that even professional musicians do not possess.

There has been a good amount of research done on music therapy with children with autism, and it seems as though there is a positive connection between the two.  According to a 2004 study, “the body of literature regarding music in intervention with children and adolescents with autism reports the following benefits:

-increased appropriate social behaviors and decreased inappropriate, stereotypical, and self-stimulatory behaviors;

-increased attention to task;

-increased vocalizations, verbalizations, gestures, and vocabulary comprehension;

-increased echolalia [the automatic repetition of vocalizations made by another person], moving toward increased communication, and decreased echolalic percentage of total utterances;

-increased communicative acts and engagement with others;

-enhanced body awareness and coordination;

-improved self-care skills and symbolic play;

-anxiety reduction [2]


Some museums and arts organizations are beginning to engage audiences with autism through music and other arts.  The Autism Theatre Initiative strives “to make theatre accessible to children and adults on the autism spectrum as well as their families.” [3]  They have been involved with autism-friendly productions of The Lion King and Mary Poppins, and this season will reprise The Lion King and add Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, Wicked, and Disney Junior Live on Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure to its repertoire.

In addition, Queens Museum hosts Spinnerz, “a club for teens with autism to encourage socialization through music and photography.” [4] 

It sometimes seems that museums can be slow to incorporate the needs of different audiences within their exhibitions and programming, but if museums are focusing on their communities, as they should, perhaps even more opportunities will come to fruition in the future and can cater to the needs, interests, and talents of everyone.



[1] Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 286.

[2] Jennifer Whipple, “Music in Intervention for Children and Adolescents with Autism: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Music Therapy 41, issue 2 (2004): 101-102.

[3] “Autism Theatre Initiative,” TDF/TAP Autism Theatre Initiative, accessed April 23, 2014,

[4] “ArtAccess,” Queens Museum, accessed April 23, 2014,

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An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, a book by then practicing physician and author Oliver Sacks, has been an interesting read. Sacks examines the lives of seven fascinating, extremely talented, and creative individuals living with neurological disorders. The book begins with the story of Jonathan I., a painter who lost his ability to perceive […]

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The (Social) Grammar Police

Social norms dictate our daily interactions.  Some scholars have characterized norms as a type of “grammar,” complete with its own set of rules.[1]  When people violate these rules, they may experience informal sanctions, such as criticism or, more severely, exclusion and discrimination.  Ultimately, we are conscious of these rules (and the sanctions that police them): […]

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