Benefits of listening to classical music for Asperger’s / autistic people [Mental Health Monday]

I stumbled upon a fascinating article about the health benefits of listening to classical music [1]. These benefits are mostly mental/psychological/emotional, although there are some physical/physiological health benefits, too.

I have a relatively strong-but-long-ago background in neurology, so naturally, I clamped onto this with interest.  I don’t, however, have a very strong interest in classical music, per se.  I do have a moderate interest, but I’m rather selective about whether or not I’m in the mood for it, and which pieces I listen to when I am.

The potential classical music benefits are for everyone, including those on and off the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.  However, given the unbalanced proportion of neurotypical people to Asperger’s/autistic people, these articles (unfortunately) don’t often consider how this information could be specifically applied to us.  Most conventionally-minded medical, psychological, and psychiatric providers don’t usually consider these kinds of potential “low-tech” interventions, either; their schooling focuses heavily on behavioral and pharmaceutical interventions.  I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for some of that, but it’s unfortunate that these “low-tech” strategies are almost completely overlooked, while practitioners jump straight to talk therapies and drugs almost exclusively.

What impressed me the most about the article is that the authors linked almost every single health benefit mentioned to its supporting scientific research.  And yes–the benefits of listening to music have been well-documented (link to PubMed search at the bottom of this post) by the scientific research community [2].  That’s super-exciting and extremely encouraging to me, since music itself is a primary interest/focus area (“special interest”).

[A few words of caution before I go much further: This post isn’t intended to serve as medical advice or as a substitute for the one-to-one guidance/advice of a licensed practitioner.  This information is intended for educational purposes only.]

OK, moving on… 🙂

For my fellow visual learners, here is the infographic from the article:

benefits-of-classical-music-infographic-1

[In the interest of accessibility, the graphic contains the following nuts and bolts (note: not full text): 10 Surprising Benefits of Listening To Classical Music (listed from left to right, and top to bottom):

  1. Decreases blood pressure
  2. Fights depression
  3. Boost memory
  4. Relieves pain
  5. Sparks creativity
  6. Puts you to sleep
  7. Reduces stress levels
  8. Makes you happy
  9. Supercharges brain power
  10. Improves productivity]

(Since this is a Mental Health-related post, I’m only going to dive into the benefits listed that pertain to mental health, and for the sake of efficiency, I’ll probably group related items together.)

In this post, I’ll examine these items from an Aspergian/autistic perspective.

Fights Depression:

If classical music does indeed fight depression (and the site housing the main article cites evidence that it does), then this could be especially helpful to those of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.  After all, the prevalence of depression is much higher in people on the spectrum [3], with suicide rates of ten times that of the neurotypical population [4].

Although depression hasn’t been systematically studied in Aspergian/autistic adults [3] (and why the hell not??), the vast majority of the Asperger’s/autistic adults I’ve interacted with (including myself) have experienced bouts of depression, if not chronic, pervasive depression.

The reasons for the depression are numerous (ranging from childhood pain, to nutrient deficiencies, to difficulty making friends, to being chronically misunderstood and outcast in a world not built according to our specs, and so on), and it’s unlikely that listening to classical music would erase or negate all of our problems, but imagine if such a simple activity could at least lighten our load, lift up the weight of the world a little, or gently nudge our state of mind toward sunnier skies.

Would that be cool, or what?

Memory Boost (with a hint of the Stress Relief aspect):

Many of us are praised for our long-term memories.  When someone says it to me, always comes as a surprise to me.  On one hand, I simply do what I do, like anyone else.  I remember things.  This was especially true for me as a child; I remembered everything–my friends’ siblings’ names and ages, their personalities, even what their bedrooms looked like. I remember tests I took and classmates’ names in my first year of kindergarten nearly 35 years ago.  My mind has been likened to a “steel trap”, and people were always envious.

If only they could see me now…

Just today, I left my credit card behind in a store.  I kid you not.  All of my usual fail-safe routines and double-checks fell through.  I realized it right away, of course, and I went back to retrieve it pronto, but the fact is, my mind isn’t quite so sharp anymore. And after talking with many a person on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I know I’m not alone.

The underlying drivers of this, too, are many.  Adrenal stress hormones circulating around the blood, knocking out the hippocampus, the holding tanks of short-term memories before they’re encoded into long-term ones?  Yep, check.  Inflammation in the brain caused by years of undiagnosed Celiac Disease?  Yep, got that, too.  Nutrient insufficiency, too long a to-do list, too long a workday?  Check, check, check.  I’m batting a thousand.

It’s no secret that a lot of us are more prone to stress.  Every time we interact with someone, leave our homes, run seemingly “simple” errands like buying groceries or going to work, navigate our way through crowds, endure prolonged noise or other environmental stimuli, or are forced to (eeeek!) make a phone call, we are thrust under huge amounts of stress–probably (much) more than we realize.

Could listening to Bach or Mozart lessen that stress at all and thus, improve out memory?

A book published a long time ago called “The Mozart Effect” discussed the significant positive impact of classical music listening on memory [5].  So, this is old news, but it still holds true.  My mom, with a strong background in Psychology (and a Masters of Science degree in it to boot) advocated I listen to classical music while studying to retain information better.  Back then, I was a rebellious teen, and thought classical music was too “mushy”, so I never took her advice.  Shame on me; I probably would have done better in school if I had.  Live and learn, I guess.

Pain Relief:

Although some of us on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum are hypo (less) sensitive to pain, most of us run on the hypersensitive side.  We might be battling pain syndromes, or we might simply be more sensitive to pain in general because of our turned-up nervous systems.  We might merely be among the millions who have Magnesium deficiencies or neurotransmitter imbalances; it happens–a lot.

Whatever the case may be, it’s not fun.  Piping Beethoven through one’s earbuds for a few minutes probably won’t have the same effect as taking an aspirin, but putting those earbuds on for, say, 30 minutes a day while taking some You Time might reduce the number of times in a month that you have to reach for that aspirin.

Creative Inspiration:

Music, especially that without a consistent beat or rhythm, like classical or New Age music, can allow your mind to drift a little.  The beat in rhythmic music keeps the brain anchored, whereas the beatless music lifts that anchor.

Why is this?  According to some of the more Functional (read: clinically applicable; relating to the functions of the body) Neurology courses I’ve taken in the past, listening to the rhythmic music stimulates the Left Hemisphere, which has dominion over logic, math, science, and, technology.  Music without a beat, on the other hand, stimulates the Right Hemisphere, which spurs creative efforts like writing, painting, and so on–even creative ideas involving activities that fall more into “Left-Brain” territory.

Many, many of us are indeed creative.  Sometimes this is obvious; we’re into music, art, writing, sculpting, other crafts, or something else.

Other times, our creativity might be more subtle, unrecognized, or latent.  We might be going through a dry spell, or maybe we don’t realize just how creative we are in the first place.

Listening to music without a rhythm might not be quite the same as having a creative muse sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear.  But some swear by cueing up a classical playlist while in their art/clay studio or in their craft work area.  It can facilitate inspiration.

Or maybe they’ll listen to it while on an early morning or late-night walk.  Either way, when made a semi-regular custom, music-listening can boost overall creativity.

Even music without a beat can synchronize the commonly-experienced chaos and disorder.  When we’re relaxed, this frees up our brains for more creative activity, because we’re not having to fight for survival (whether the fight is real or imagined/perceived) all the time.

Sleep Aid:

It might or might not work to have Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” (a fairly lively piece) blasting out of your sound system as you try to drift off at night, but I have indeed experienced times when I’ve been working at my desktop computer in the afternoon, with some mellow music on, and before I know it, I’m nodding off in a blissful afternoon nap.

You might not even have to have the music on at the time you’re going to sleep; maybe listening for a few hours before bed, or perhaps having it playing in the background throughout the workday at work or at home can help reset the brain enough to sleep better that night.  It probably comes down to that whole “stress relief” aspect.

Stress Relief, Happiness, and Increased Productivity:

Speaking of…  Music, in general, can be a ginormous stress-reliever.  Whether you’re belting out the words (of, say, popular music) or just playing some in the background, it can reduce stress, add pleasure, and make (almost) whatever activity you’re engaged (or trying to engage) in at the time a little (or a lot) more fun.

The “fun” can come from the simple pleasure of listening to the music itself.  Or, if there’s a beat involved (and yes, I know this post focuses specifically on classical music, which isn’t exactly known for its drum kit or electronic pulse 😉 ), performing the task at hand to the beat of the music, while its beat keeps your momentum and focus, can be incredibly helpful.  And even when there is no beat (such as is usually the case with classical music), there’s still something about its effect on brainwaves.

Something about music can help us focus, draw inward, and center in a grounding and comforting way.  Something about music can help us release emotions, clean out old residual debris, and stimulate our minds in a healthy way that helps us think more clearly and organize our lives in an orderly way.  This alone can help reduce stress.

For people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum (myself included), I suspect that a lot of our stress comes from disordered thoughts, random remembering of pending obligations, trying to keep dates and schedules straight in our heads, and just about anything else.  So when music enters the picture, stimulating a more orderly thought-pattern, some of that chaos falls into a logical sequence of its own, thus reducing the stress attached to it.  At least, that’s the way I see it.

This, in turn, makes us happy!  And of course, more productive.

A Final Note (no pun intended, but if you laugh or smile, then that’s awesome): 😉

Classical music is probably not the only way to get these jobs done (read: to bring about the benefits described above), but it’s certainly an amazing route to take.  Some of the benefits listed above may (or may not) only be achieved with classical music, because of the way its specific qualities impact the brain and its brainwaves.  In fact, the reality might be that only certain pieces from certain composers will actually work as described.  The scientific research on this topic is sparse, but it is growing.  More studies are being conducted and published daily.  The issue is far from closed, and a verdict has been anything but rendered.  But we have collected enough information and evidence to be able to say that there are some really encouraging findings that may bring about some excellent mental–and maybe even physical–health benefits! ❤

Image Source: “The 10 Shocking Benefits of Listening To Classical Music [Infographic]” from TakeLessons.com.

Further Reading:

1 – “10 Shocking Benefits of Listening To Classical Music” ~ Take Lessons

2 – “Classical+music+effects” ~ PubMed search results (as of 30 March 2017)

3 – Conditions Comorbid to Autism Spectrum Disorders ~ Wiki (while I don’t like the word choices of “comorbid” or “disorders”, it’s a decent Wiki section)

4 – Suicidal Thoughts 10 Times More Likely In Adults With Asperger’s ~ Psych Central (an OK site, not the same as Psychology Today, the semi-sensationalist trade magazine)

5 – The Mozart Effect ~ from Wiki

6 – Update! Music & Autism ~ TakeLessons.com kindly asked if I could share this article from their site, which is a really good article!  It holds true for adults on the spectrum, too 🙂


Related Posts:

Shapeshifting ~ Part 2 ~ November 19, 2016

Lost, and How Music Saved (Saves) Me ~ January 7, 2017

 

 

 

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26 Comments

  1. I love classical music (along with all kinds of other music), so I was interested to see your post about it! I had heard before that there are all kinds of benefits for all people from listening to classical music, so I was not surprised by the findings you quoted. We often have it on in the office, and I find it very pleasant.
    I do not find, though, that classical music is not rhythmic. On the contrary, I perceive it as rhythmic, sometimes very much so. In my way of listening it also has a beat, although of course not so pronounced as music involving a drum kit or such. I find that it’s only some ambient music (not all of it) that truly doesn’t have a beat. But I guess it’s a matter of perception. We’re all different! 😉

    P.S. My mental jukebox has quite a bit of classical on it as well. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for your comment! Yeah, very true, it can indeed be rhythmic 😊. I guess I meant more in terms of percussion (oops on my part lol 😉). I love how we’re all different! ❤️. I totally dig being exposed to other people’s perspectives and learning from/about them 👍🏼. And holy hell yes about the mental jukebox!! 💖💖

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  2. I am an enthusiastic listener to classical music. In terms of classical music as a stress buster, when I typed up my dissertation I spent the whole period listening to classical music as well – and it worked.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Music definitely helps me on many levels. Nothing I enjoy more than stealing away on my own and listening to my favorites. I have several ranging from classic to rock to folk and many places in between. Different types for different moods. And, just recently, I scored an awesome turntable at a thrift store. Been collecting lots of albums. It’s like going to another world listening to my songs non-digitally. 🙂 Also, much like Little Sparrow, I have quite a mental jukebox . Very handy when I need a mini-escape and can’t get to my music another way. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes!! Omg the mental jukebox! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 And different types for different moods, yes! I can (obviously) relate to both of you 😘❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I do listen to classical music but it depends on my mood, what I’m doing and the environment. One thing I find is getting older, I’m more sensitive to high pitch sound so while I’m open to different kinds of genre, I’m very selective about what I listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, I totally know what you mean 😊. I can’t handle all the different types of music that I could when I was younger. Wish I could, but I guess that’s part of life 😊❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. so this goes with the email i sent you: https://codeinfig.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/what-its-like-to-fall-in-love/

        read the part about the printer again. today, i found out she came back to the u.s. half a decade later. and shes in the same state. now dont get me wrong– you may know who im in love with at the moment, and this discovery changes not a thing! but this was nearly the mother of my kid. shes probably married now, but we at least have to have coffee and talk about old times! (i just have to make sure i dont try to fix her printer…) really though, itll be fine. i care about my new love very deeply.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on MARSHALL W THOMPSON, SR and commented:
    @thesilentwave knocked another ball out of the park. I have read studies on music and a child in the womb as well as house plants. There are pieces of evidence that point at certain types of sounds haveing an effect on a human even in the womb with a greater reaction in children and begins to lessen with age. However, those effects are not always beneficial and images are seen by a child as sound. I posted on how the brain sees sarcasm the same way it hears it. Body language symbols emoji etc. This is one of the reasons domestic abuse is so harming fuel to children! #PeaceMarshall

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I find this so ON. I have a 16 year old Aspie, and I am convinced I am one but never was diagnosed. I have always found music indispensable, I can’t be in silence, i have always need something on, music, tv. I have also always have a deep desire of learning violin. It never occurred, for many different reasons. Now at 40, I have a 9 year old princess who wanted to learn violin, and little did I knew, I finally started to learn it too. There’s something just magical about playing an instrument, to play music.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Yes. Yes. Yes. Our son how is now 24, always loved to sing. He joined the elementary choir and at the 5th grade end of the year concert, he had a solo from “A Mighty Wind a Blowin” and the crowd went WILD. He told me that morning he was going to sing with his “authentic voice”. I had no idea what that meant until he belted out his solo that evening. He has been singing ever since. He joined his high school choir as a tenor, his college choir and chose performing arts and music as his major. He wrote in his application letter to a private liberal arts college that “he found his voice” when he sang. He graduates in May and we are very excited and proud. Of course he will be singing the national anthem at the graduation and will have a solo. His fav music is Classical and he loves singing in German and Latin. He also is a fabulous pianist as we gave him lessons when he was 7. I know when he is happy because he sings all over the house. It’s the BEST…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thank you for sharing your story! How cool!! 🤗. Music can be totally freeing – so neat that he has that talent! Super-happy for him, and super-excited about the next chapter in his life 👍🏼👏🏼🌷💜

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting share. So without a beat or rhythm, it says. I prefer marches of all sorts, they make me really… upbeat.
    Otherwise I mostly listen to pop & movie / game soundtracks of all kinds on repeat, and I suppose quite a few fall under the category of classical. And *many* marches.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh yeah 😊. I’m sure that a big variety of genres bring benefits like this 💖. Classical music is just the one that’s been studied the most and the benefits documented. But yeah, I’m pretty sure that marches and game soundtracks (love those!) would bring similar benefits in many respects, and maybe even some unique ones of their own 😊💖

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      1. What I like with soundtracks is that that I often have vivid and visual (happy) memories connected to them. That beautiful song when the beacons of Gondor are being lit for example. It was breathtaking when I first saw it in the theatre, and that feeling always returns when I hear the song.

        I also love that soundtracks vary a lot as well. Classical, marches, new age, anything.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I have a complicated relationship with classical music. I was brought up on it, trained in it and taught it. It was a passion. But it stimulates all the emotions and often that’s too painful. I once went about three years unable to listen to any classical music at all. It was hard to get back to it because a) it made me cry so much or b) it made my intellectual brain work harder than it was prepared to – like going for a run when walking is enough struggle. I do miss playing so much that it causes immense grief sometimes. But the physical pain was too much. Dammit! One day I will set myself a training schedule. Build myself up slowly. Relearn to listen to all the classical genres with enjoyment and understanding.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow, luv 😘💐💞. Thank you for sharing this 🌺. I’m so sorry this happened to you 😰. It totally stinks when our neurology associates something we love with something that causes pain. I also totally get the grief that comes from missing something you used to love to do (without it bringing you pain) (I’m in a similar boat, because of the hearing loss). Over time, I think it might be possible to reclaim that which we used to love and dissociate it once again from the pain part. But it takes a little while. Or maybe you form a new healthy bond with different classical pieces. You’re so wise; you’ll find a way 💖 Big Love to you, my darling 😘🌹💪🏼🌷💞

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  10. So wise 😳😂. Yeah, hopefully one day. My stupid TMJ! And your stupid hearing loss! And all the other stuff that stops us from being able to say, that’s nice, before going about our business! Oh gosh, I sound like I’m on a downer. I’m not really, had 20 years to process! Love you xxx

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  11. I never understood how neurotypicals can talk to each other while music is being played in the background. Me, I’d drop everything and just listen, shut everything else out.

    Music boosts my imagination and makes me feel hopeful. Not necessarily classical music, rock bands like ‘Chicago’ and ‘Journey’ and others. It’s soothing and uplifting. I can usually feel longing for something unknown. It creates emotions and takes away the edge from the usual chaos of life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. Journey is awesome 😁. Hehe I’m That One who, especially when traveling in a vehicle with someone and we’re having a conversation and a cool song comes on, will say, “oh wait–you gotta hear this song” and restart the song lol 😂😂💖

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