redtabby's autism blog

A blog considering how psychology, psychiatry, social life and personal life do and don't interact with the autistic spectrum, sometimes obviously, sometimes not.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

One in ten thousand

Just returned from visiting Silvertabby and Kitten. Kitten now has three A's at A-level and can go and be very clever at university! I knew she would.

While attempting to retrieve Silvertabby's watering can from the bogey-hole, I was assaulted by a supermop, an antique Fru-grain tin and several old wall planners. Then I filled the can up to top F sharp (i.e. full) and took it out to do the rose trees.
While doing that I thought about the piece in July's 'The Psychologist', about Pam Heaton's PhD work on perfect pitch in autistic children. 1 in 10,000 of the general population has it, apparently, but it's commoner in ASD folk. I'd like to know who established that! The article did not clarify that, but showed that appreciation of music is not lessened in the ASDs because of their condition. I didn't think it would be for a minute. Getting feelings into words and tying them to things that happen in the outside world is more the issue than feeling the feelings in the first place. At least for some of us, music is so immediate, while communicating is so laborious ...
I did wonder, though, ASDs being such a repository of the extremes, whether there aren't some autists who not only dislike music but are absolutely tone deaf and have perfect tin ears.
I looked in Darold Treffert's book 'Extraordinary People', and it doesn't seem that perfect pitch by itself is thought of as a savant skill. (Shame! That and spelling are the only things I do well.)

I've always thought that perfect pitch doesn't have to be a musical ability though; it's just sound recognition, really, useful for filling hot water bottles (B flat for your normal-sized bottle) and watering cans, and learning your music without a piano.
I got that idea ages ago from hearing about the bloke with perfect pitch who used to whistle international dialling tones to make free foreign phone calls. Apparently the judge let him off because he'd never heard anything like it.
When I was going to primary school, I used to la-la to myself going along the road, starting the tune again if I'd begun it on the wrong note. I never thought about it; I thought everyone could do that. I didn't find out it was 'special' until I went to a schools' choral weekend at the old age of 17, and the person I shared with had started humming a piece on the wrong note. Thereafter, it was a bit of fun, a party-piece - until I moved here, and found there were people who hated it, disputed it, didn't believe it and would be waspish about it until I cried. Whatever for? I didn't think it was possible for people to be so mean-spirited about such a little thing. Especially as it has only a 'maybe' connection to real musicianship.
I heard it hypothesized on Radio 3's 'Music Matters' a year or two ago that it's really a baby ability, the pre-verbal way that tiny tots start getting clues about the emotional content of the noises their mums and dads make before they can make sense of actual words. When they start getting a vocabulary, the skill disappears.
Makes sense to me; the difficulty lots of ASD folk have in getting language might help to explain why this skill is retained more in the ASD population.
This subject should be opened up more. It might tell us lots of handy things about how we learn.
Toodle-oo for now!