Speaking for Ourselves: Conversations on Life, Music, and Autism

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Since the advent of autism as a diagnosed condition in the 1940s, the importance of music in the lives of autistic people has been widely observed and studied. Articles on musical savants, extraordinary feats of musical memory, unusually high rates of absolute or “perfect” pitch, and the effectiveness of music-based therapies abound in the autism literature. Meanwhile, music scholars and historians have posited autism-centered explanatory models to account for the unique musical artistry of everyone from Béla Bartók and Glenn Gould to “Blind Tom” Wiggins.

Given the great deal of attention paid to music and autism, it is surprising to discover that autistic people have rarely been asked to account for how they themselves make and experience music or why it matters to them that they do. In Speaking for Ourselves, renowned ethnomusicologist Michael Bakan does just that, engaging in deep conversations–some spanning the course of years–with ten fascinating and very different individuals who share two basic things in common: an autism spectrum diagnosis and a life in which music plays a central part. These conversations offer profound insights into the intricacies and intersections of music, autism, neurodiversity, and life in general, not from an autistic point of view, but rather from many different autistic points of view. They invite readers to partake of a rich tapestry of words, ideas, images, and musical sounds that speak to both the diversity of autistic experience and the common humanity we all share.

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