Dawn Mitchell White says, “Musical emotions aren’t understood the same way as regular emotions. They don’t require complex facial expressions or a ‘tone of voice,’ which are particularly difficult for children with autism to recognize. Musical emotions are easier for children with autism spectrum disorder to grasp because they are less socially complex.” Dawn unpacks music’s superpower in developing emotion recognition, management, and expression in those with autism spectrum disorder.
Joining me from Tampa, Florida, is Dawn Mitchell White. Dawn is a doctoral candidate in Music Education at the University of South Florida. She is a music educator, researcher, conductor, and bassoonist with a particular devotion to children with special needs. Before returning to school for her doctorate, Dawn owned and operated a K-12 school of the arts for children with learning and developmental disabilities.
- What the challenges generally are for those with autism when it comes to emotions – experiencing them, recognizing them in other people, and managing them.
- Those of us who are neuro-typical see a big divide between in-person communication and communication by text, and it’s precisely because there is no emotion or nuance or body language or tone of voice in texts. We discuss the similarities with how those with autism may experience in-person communication, devoid of any of that non-linguistic communication.
- Studies show that children with autism can understand both simple and complex emotions in music.
- Specific ways music can be utilized (by educators and/or parents) to intentionally develop emotional skills in kids with autism, including:
- Use emotional labels, sing with vocabulary cards to teach language skills.
- Simplify music by isolating musical elements (pitch, melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, structure, texture and expression).
- Link music with information to help a child with autism recall information.
- The implications of emotion development (or lack thereof) on a child’s social life.
- Recommended resources for parents and teachers who want to dig deeper into this topic of emotional development (and social and language development) through music.
- Dawn’s article that caught my attention: 3 ways music educators can help students with autism develop their emotions
- Dawn’s website
- Dawn on LinkedIn
- Dawn recommends these resources:
- I mention former guest Clint Randles; you can listen to him on Ep. 44.
- If you enjoyed this conversation, you may also enjoy:
- Ep. 24: Autism Interventions with Music, with Esther Thane, MTA, AVPT
- Ep. 27: Are musicians better able to pick up subtle emotional cues? With Dr. Nina Kraus
- Ep. 92: April is Autism Acceptance Month. One expert’s story and practical resources for music teachers of those with autism; with author Dr. Alice Hammel
- Ep. 82: What is the relationship between musicianship, mental disorders, and genius? What is the difference between prodigy and genius? With Dr. Craig Wright
- Ep. 31: “Good Music, Brighter Children: Simple and Practical Ideas to Help Transform Your Child’s Life Through the Power of Music,” with author Sharlene Habermeyer
- Ep. 11: A Lion Mom Roars: with America’s Got Talent Contestant Susan Pascale
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Dawn says: I’d like to sing a song with my sons for the audience. We have a song that we sing together for the holidays entitled, “Dona Nobis Pacem” (Bring Us Peace). We sing it in a round that ends up accentuating a beautiful medieval to renaissance harmony that I think the audience might appreciate. Despite the fact that these wonderful young men were language-delayed in their youth, my sons have grown up to speak normally, play musical instruments, and can socialize with others. I credit music (including vocal, instrumental, and musical theater) for many of the great emotional strides they made. They connected with it when they couldn’t connect with other people. Eventually, they were able to use music to bridge the gap.
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