A London orchestra cellist faces up to her autism

Elisabeth Wiklander is a cellist, formerly with the Netherland Philharmonic, now in the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2009 she was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

In an extended interview with Åsa Höjer for the parish magazine of the Swedish Church in London, she talks about it with hope and impressive candour.
Up until I was diagnosed I always had rock solid confidence in social situation but after the diagnosis, my confidence dropped to zero. I became aware of everything! I suddenly gained knowledge that changed everything. Knowledge is like that, it can tear down everything you thought you knew. But something stronger can then be built, I began to see myself in a new context.

Last year Elisabeth was appointed cultural ambassador for the National Autistic Society. She has given us permission to republish the entire interview below.

elisabeth wiklander

AUTISM CONCERNS US ALL

“I really wanted to belong but could I never fit in. It was like I was in a glass box, I could not get out and no one could come in.”

One evening nearly two years ago I met a woman who immediately made a huge impression on me. She spoke with great enthusiasm about how she recently moved to London, about the dream job she had got after years (!) of trial. We decide to meet again soon, when there was time… Two lives filled with hectic days due to professions that demand a lot of time and energy. Two years have passed but the moment has come. We are back in contact with each other, I attended a concert with the orchestra that she plays in and we are finally about to meet again. Ten minutes before I’m about to rush off to the underground to our meeting, I see that she’s posted a link on her Facebook pageA link to an article published on the BBC News with the title “How the Bridge’s heroine became a role model for women with autism”. In her post she writes “This is the first time I feature in an article as an autistic woman. Lucy Townsend has done a fantastic job and managed to put my words down just as I meant them. My quest for autism awareness that I set out for on April 2nd this year when I came out publicly as autistic has taken off. And folks, it has taken off with a speed that’s unbelievable. You can expect a lot of posts in the near future. Things, big things, have started to come in motion and it’s very exciting”. I press “print”, receive an article 8 pages long, shove it all into my bag along with note book and pencils and run to the underground station.

SAGA IN THE BRIDGE- A FACE FOR AUTISM

– In 2006 I learned that there is something called Asperger’s and realised that “this concerns my family”. 2009 I received the diagnosis myself, Elisabeth Wiklander tells me where we sit in a cafe a stone’s throw from her place of work at the Southbank Centre in London. She is pretty, open and eager to tell her story, in fact almost evangelical.
– By 2009, there was much more to read about autism and particularly about Asperger’s than there was back in 2006. To date, I have read a huge number of books and a large amount technical literature, probably most of what is available to read.

Back to the news article. Many of you might have watched the Swedish-Danish TV-series The Bridge, which was a huge success both in Scandinavia as well as here in Great Britain, especially because of the main character, Saga, and the way she acts. The scriptwriters of the series have never confirmed that Saga has Asperger’s, but Sofia Helin who plays Saga, often says that she studied people with autism and Asperger’s to help prepare herself for the role. So what is Asperger’s Syndrome? The Swedish Association for Autism and Asperger’s write on their homepage:

Symptoms

Asperger’s Syndrome is often described as autism in people with normal – or above average intelligence but without the communication difficulties that are present in classic autism. The symptoms of Asperger’s are also shown later than in classic autism.

Diagnosis

The problems are often revealed first in pre-school where the child’s different social behaviour becomes clear, but it can take longer than that before the surrounding people react and an investigation is initiated. The average age for a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome is 8-11 years old.

Hard to define

Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome have had stealthy problems during their entire upbringing and first receive their diagnosis only after having reached adulthood, often after years of personal suffering and alienation.

” I will always be different and that’s okay; thanks to the increasing understanding and awareness from people around me, the autistic alienation doesn’t weigh as heavily on me any more.”

– Autism is different for every individual Elisabeth says, and continues; as a child I couldn’t read body language very well, I couldn’t understand social rules. During my teens I isolated myself, living in a cabin in the Swedish outback. I didn’t have much in common with my female peers and it was difficult to have a friendly relationship with boys, as they often assumed that I was romantically interested in them. I lived alone in the cabin in the woods for several years – like Ronja the Robber’s Daughter (a Swedish children’s story by Astrid Lindgren). I simply couldn’t understand non-verbal communication.

THE ROAD TO BECOMING A CELLIST

In spite of exclusion and difficulties in being understood, or understanding others, Elisabeth had a relatively good time growing up, mainly because she was recognised as being very good at certain things like sports, music etc. Her parents are both musicians and as a little girl she was given a cello.
– It was Guido Vecchi, the former principal cellist of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, who inspired me to become a cellist. He played concerts with my father and gave me my first lessons, Elisabeth says. – I can’t remember life without the cello, I’ve played since I was three years old.

In high school she chose the music course and after that she was accepted to the music college at the University of Gothenburg at 18 years old. Elisabeth has studied with amongst others Erling Blöndal-Bengtsson, Frans Helmerson, Thorleif Thedéen, Mats Rondin and Dmitry Ferschtman. In Autumn 2005 she began her master studies in Harro Ruijsenaar’s cello class at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, The Netherlands.

She graduated from her master’s exam in 2008 with the highest mark possible and was that same year accepted as Academist in one of the world top orchestras, The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

– Arthur Oomens, cellist in the Concertgebouw Orchestra, tutored me in orchestral studies at the Conservatory in The Hague. I call him my “cello daddy”, I learned an incredible amount from him, Elisabeth says nostalgically.

– Arthur was also my mentor during my time at the Academy and we still have a very close relationship. He gave me the tools I needed to become an orchestral player and ignited my passion for it.

– It was when I started to play with The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, at one of the highest standards in the world, that I realised “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”. I practiced like a maniac for several years in order to raise my playing to such a level that I could get a job in an orchestra of a similar class.
At the same time, Elisabeth realised that she had to start dealing with herself and to understand people and social rules better, in order to be completely happy in her work place from a social perspective as well.

– If you are born autistic, you always will be autistic and you can’t separate autism from your personality.

The fact that Elisabeth has made a long journey, on many different levels, is not hard to understand when we sit here in London and she speaks with an open heart about her life with hardships as well as fantastic successes.

– Up until I was diagnosed I always had rock solid confidence in social situation but after the diagnosis, my confidence dropped to zero. I became aware of everything! I suddenly gained knowledge that changed everything. Knowledge is like that, it can tear down everything you thought you knew. But something stronger can then be built, I began to see myself in a new context.

LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA 

In 2013 Elisabeth became a member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), she is therefore also a shareholder in the orchestra because that’s the way the company is run, all members are shareholders.

– When I auditioned, I didn’t realise that they had had a total of around 500 cellists applying over several years, she says and smiles. 

She auditioned before a jury and after that she got a trial in the orchestra. The process was ongoing for three whole years!

– “There’s something special about the LPO. A big part of it is the social aspect, it’s an orchestra that has a reputation of being particularly friendly and there’s a nice mix between everyone in the orchestra. The work is very varied, we play 2-4 programs every week which means every concert has different music that we have to rehearse. This makes us one of the hardest working orchestras in the world.

– I came out as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome on April 2nd 2015. The reception has on the whole been very positive and anyone who was negative or wouldn’t understand has become silent.” 

Their home is the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank. During the summer months, the orchestra is resident at The Glyndebourne Opera Festival in Sussex. In addition to this, the orchestra records film music – Ironman 3 and Lord Of The Rings are just a few of the projects, and we tour every year internationally to the great concert venues all around the world.
The orchestra is big, with sometimes up 100 players, and was founded in 1932 by Sir Thomas Beecham. Since 2007 Vladimir Jurowski has been the principal conductor and Andrés Orozco-Estrada was appointed guest principal conductor as recently as September 2015.

I was already aware that it is hard for the orchestra members to have time for a “normal” family life and Elisabeth confirms that for some who live alone without children and families – the orchestra becomes a family for them.

– The tours can sometime be straining on relationships between us, but there is generally a very good atmosphere. For someone like me however, touring life can be very hard and stressful.

EVEN THE ORDINARY DAY REQUIRES PLANNING

Elisabeth has been fortunate enough to meet a man with great social competence and a lot of empathy. Today they live a good life together, but they still always have to be ever mindful of her condition. She tells me about her boyfriend having to learn not to invite people over to their home without warning and about the small gestures and signals that they can use to communicate with each other when at a dinner party.

– I have explored ways that can get me through an evening out, these are things I had to learn all on my own, Elisabeth explains. All social interaction is extremely tiring for me. 

Her body language is strong, the eyes are intense and her smile is never far away. 

– But what about something like this, I have to ask, a meeting where you have to be social and talk about yourself in front of a stranger?

– Well, Elisabeth replies with a strained smile, it is an effort. She explains to me how she unconsciously registers everything that is happening around us, all other conversations that take place in the room, everything on the walls, the smells and how people laugh. To register all this is normal for her, there is nothing she can do about it. I think to myself it is a good thing that we’re sitting in the lower part of a somewhat dimmed room with only a few people.

– I know that I have to get my head around these things. Autism is often linked to loneliness, Elisabeth points out and we talk for a while about the fact that knowledge of Asperger’s and autism can actually save lives.

-Especially during my teenage years, it was hard. I wanted to be part of things but I could never fit in. It was as if I was in a glass box and I couldn’t get out, and no one else could come in. 

She turned herself inside out trying to adapt but in spite of all her efforts, and in spite of all of the meetings with doctors and psychologists, she reached the age of 28 before she got her diagnosis of Asperger’s, and even getting that was only due to her relentless determination. After having read a huge amount of literature, articles and other information that one could find about autism, she was convinced that she was right and brought it all to a doctor saying ” I have read all of this, I know I’ve got this syndrome, please listen to me”.

– The problem was that although the specialists knew about this condition, to get a referral to one you had to go via the GP, Elisabeth explains. Understandably, the expert knowledge required was not there because there was a lot of ignorance amongst GPs and nurses concerning the new scientific researches about autism, this information hadn’t existed when they trained. 

– All neurotypical brains are created the same way while each autistic brain is very unique in how it operates. My brain works very much like a computer and so my emotions have an ‘on/off’ switch, not a dimmer like most others. 

“We need people to be understanding when things are difficult for us without us having to be regarded as disabled.”

A LIFE WITHOUT FILTER

Autism is a genetic condition and results from a different neurological constitution. You have a brain that works with a different “operating system”, like for example MAC versus PC.
– I 
have a brain that operates differently and that processes information differently from the majority of people. This in itself is not a problem, what creates suffering is that society is adapted to a different “operating system” than the one I’m biologically created with. When this causes complications, there is not enough understanding and knowledge about how people like me function and what our needs are. We are constantly misunderstood and often become outcasts. Our talents and skills become unused because we don’t fit into the social norm.

We can have needs that neurotypical people don’t understand, for example if a working environment has very bright light or strong smells, these can cause sensory overload.

Elisabeth is good at explaining autism and Asperger’s in a way that I, with my neurotypical brain, actually can relate to and understand. I gratefully let her continue.
– Neurotypical people’s brains are better at filtering out impressions and stimuli that the brain believes not to be of importance in a certain situation. Autistic people haven’t got the same filter and are constantly inundated with details of everything around them, which is very tiring because it’s a lot of information for the brain to process. An extreme but classic example is when certain autistic individuals have flown over a city for the first time and later are able to sketch everything down to the smallest detail. 

UNIQUE AND LONELY

With MRI scanning scientists have been able to see that neurotypical people’s brains are created according to the same template, meaning a certain part of the brain lights up in scanning when dealing with a specific task. This “sameness” doesn’t mean that all neurotypical people are alike, everyone is of course unique and individual, but the way their brains work to interpret the world around them and to process information is the same. Here is where the autistic brain differs. It has been shown that autistic brains use a different centre and a different amount of neurons therein. There is, for example, an increased number of neurons through the logic centre which make autistic people prone to noticing details and often give them a penchant for systems and logic. The uniform manner in which neurotypicals process information doesn’t exist in autistic people, there isn’t the same unified picture. It seems as if the brain of every autistic individual operates uniquely, even though one has seen characteristics in how it differs from the neurotypical brain. This can lead to isolation and loneliness for autistic people.

– Neurotypical people mainly use nonverbal communication when interacting with each other, for example body language, mimicking and intonation in their speech. Autistic people have a different mental constitution here, we are ‘blind’ to a lot of this, Elisabeth explains, and continues; 

– Like a dyslexic person who sees letters but doesn’t read the word, we see body language but don’t always read the intention or the message. However, just as a dyslexic can eventually learn to read we can train ourselves to better read a social situation. A dyslexic student doesn’t want to be called stupid in school and we who have this social dyslexia also want to feel that we’ve got understanding for the things that are difficult for us without having to be labelled disabled. Autistic people are often very intelligent.

INCREASED QUALITY OF LIFE WITH KNOWLEDGE

The ability to read another person’s intentions and emotional state is called ‘theory of mind’. Autistic people have less natural ability in this area but can learn social skills and learn to read social situations better, just like you can learn a different language or a musical instrument. But the ability to learn this is not build into an autistic person’s system the way it is in a neurotypical human being, who is born with the ability to absorb this form of information automatically. 

Autistic people decipher a social situation or a person’s intentions much through the logic centre of the brain, almost the same way you’d solve a mathematical equation, and that’s why social activities fatigue people with autism quicker than they would a neurotypical.

– The way we do it requires a lot of energy, but for a neurotypical person it all happens on a more instinctive level. It’s important to remember that being autistic doesn’t have to follow a certain norm. Someone told me once that I couldn’t be autistic because I’m not a computer nerd. That’s about just as stupid as saying to a homosexual man that he can’t be homosexual because he doesn’t do classical ballet. 

” I am hopeful for the future. The knowledge of how our amazing brains work is unexplored like the depths of the oceans.”

Just like all neurotypical people are different and unique individuals, so also are autistic people, unique with different personalities, interests and values. We only differ in how we process information and how we perceive the world around us. Greater common knowledge about these differences and how they are being expressed in different people can make society more able to take advantage of the amazing skills that autistic people often possess and increase the quality of life both for those who are born with autism, and their families and people who live or work with them, Elisabeth emphasises.

Our DNA tells us that the genes that are believed to cause autism are very old genes from our deep past (Steve Silberman, “Neurotribes”) and that they have been important contributors to our development as a species through individuals who, thanks to their hyper-focus, love for details and the ability to think “outside the box”, pioneered many of our most important inventions and successes within the medical and scientific fields.

– When I try to explain my difficulties I often hear people say “yes but so what, I too can feel that way sometimes!”. Autistic people don’t only have traits that are never recognised in neurotypical people, we share experiences and feelings that everyone can feel (for example neurotypicals can become tired from socialising). It is the extent to which it happens that is the difference. Let’s compare it with saying to a person who suffers from depression “yes but so what, I too can feel depressed sometimes”. That’s terrible. To feel depressed or down is not the same as suffering from depression, which can be deadly. A good friend of mine who was trying to be helpful once said that he too got tired from social situations and that all I have to do is just to practice more. He’s gay so I told him that by the same logic, he should be less attracted to men if he just practiced having sex with girls more. Then he understood and he gave me a big smile.

Elisabeth recalls how easy she found algebra at school, it was just logic, and about how (for example) the periodic table works as a tool for her to tune out from everything else (which happens when the logic part of your brain is excessively active). I want to understand, try to and I think that I do. I think again about Saga in The Bridge, how her “obvious” autism makes us viewers laugh but also understand and appreciate it.

– If I hadn’t become a cellist I would have loved to do research in neuroscience, and I have always had a big passion for the natural sciences – nature, astronomy, the environment. 

The hours have literally flown during our conversation and I realise that I’m a more educated and also a more curious person that hugs Elisabeth when we part. Imagine how much one conversation with one, unique person can open doors, contribute to understanding and increase the desire to read and learn. We humans have so much to give to each other- if we only dare to listen and be open to change.

“The changes that have started to take shape during the last five years have allowed me to see things that feel nothing short of miraculous; they have saved marriages, deepened ties within families and yes, even saved of lives.”

In 2015 Elisabeth was appointed cultural ambassador of the National Autistic Society. The London Philharmonic is very positive about having a collaboration with the NAS and Elisabeth sees it as a fantastic tool to make a difference.

 

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  • I’ll note that in 2013 Asperger’s Syndrome was dropped by the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnosis from their “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

    They found that whether one was diagnosed as having Asperger’s depended more on who was doing the diagnosing than on a defined set of observable symptoms. It was a label of disability being applied to people with no clear disability.

    For now, it has gone the way of other formerly diagnosed mental conditions like “nostalgia” and “female hysteria”.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/05/autism_spectrum_diagnoses_the_dsm_5_eliminates_asperger_s_and_pdd_nos.html

    • I think you meant ‘neuralgia’? Nostalgia was never, it seems, a diagnosis of a mental disorder, but an emotional condition, i.e. normal.

    • Asperger’s has not been “dropped” as a diagnosis from the DSM V, nor is it the equivalent of a false problematic diagnosis like “female hysteria” and just “gone away.”

      Asperger’s as a clinical diagnosis continues, and is now included within autism spectrum disorders in the DSM V.

      The deep struggle of children and adults who have asperger’s, and the empowerment of these individuals who receive a diagnosis upon which they can understand their differences and positively act (as has Elisabeth Wiklander) cannot be underestimated.

      “DSM V: What Changes May Mean”
      http://www.autism.com/news_dsmV

    • Hi Robert!

      Nostalgia? Female hysteria? Well I am female but I am not nostalgic nor hysteric. As far as I know “female hysteria” is no longer recognised by medical authorities as a condition any more. It is on the other hand decided by the APA that anyone diagnosed before 2013 can keep their diagnosis Asperger’s Syndrome. That includes me. All that is changed is that Asperger’s Syndrome now goes under the autism spectrum umbrella and is no longer a diagnosis separate from this.

      Regards, Elisabeth

    • Dear Steve!

      Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂

      Just want to say I absolutely love you book. What an impressive piece of work. Thank you so much for you dedication and contribution, everyone should read it!

      Kind regards, Elisabeth

  • The fact that Asperger’s Syndrome was dropped by the American Psychiatric Association, is more indicative of the complexities of diagnosing an imprecise sub-category of disability within the autistic spectrum, rather than (as Robert’s post may imply) an indication of someone not actually having a neurodevelopmental disorder or a disability. I work with teenagers on the autistic spectrum, and naturally many don’t want to be reguarded as disabled, likewise, funding bodies are also understandably happy to accept that outcome. Neither is particularly helpful in addressing the difficulties and prejudice that many of the students I work with face every single day. People with autism are just as disabled as people missing limbs; some adapt well and carry on like everyone else, some need a little support, others find it impossible to cope in the outside world. But don’t dismiss the issue because you can’t see it, or because the label has changed.

    • I read the synopsis on the book you suggest because my first reaction was it belittled those on the autistic spectrum as being shy, the reason they are isolated. I’m still not sure what your point is, positive or negative, but my son is not shy at all, he just believes he doesn’t need people but doesn’t flinch when I might find it daunting myself.

      However, I accept that previously, autism probably did exist and was “normal” in that those affected were different but not necessarily understood. Since my suspicions of my son’s Asperger’s Syndrome was confirmed, I have reflected on how he could have been shot as a deserter in the World Wars, had he been born a few generations earlier. Another possibility is the “village idiot”, and more recently, isolated people being bullied by their society, sometimes murdered and tortured.

      In my humble non academic view, and as a later developer in education myself, I think accepting diversity and stopping trying to fit people in pigeon holes starts in teaching philosophy to children, and also to consider Howard Gardner’s books on Multiple Intelligence that focuses less on academic ability and high marks in exams is not representative of what individuals have to offer society. Big business and universities are blocking a lot of talent.

  • Thanks everyone who corrected Robert Holmén for his ignorant remark. My son is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and it is very real indeed. If the label from now on is just being on Autism Spectrum, I am totally fine with it. We run all the time into people who think that my son will “grow out of it” or “just needs to practice more” or simply think that he is fussy and over sensitive. Sorry, but he was born with a brain that functions differently from mine or yours, and he has suffered from that most of his childhood, being bullied at school for being nerdy and awkward etc. With the diagnosis we, his family members, can better create a surroundings where he can function better, and also he now understands that he really is different from his classmates and it will be harder for him to find like minded people – but he gets it now. Thanks for posting this article!

  • While interesting, this article grossly oversimplifies autism. Autism is not a genetic condition. There is no “autism gene,” despite massive efforts to find one (mostly funded by the pharmaceutical industry). Children are not “born autistic.” Children diagnosed with autism often develop normally for their first 18-36 months and then regress.

    It’s ridiculous to try to generalize about “all neurotypical brains,” as well as about autistic brains, as there is still so much that remains unknown about brain function.

    Many people with autism (abs their families!) strongly disagree with author Steve Silberman’s assumptions and conclusions about autism.

    I find it very interesting that Ms. Wiklander had great social confidence until being diagnosed with Asperger’s. It would be a great pity if her confidence has been destroyed by a misdiagnosis. It’s very common for musicians to have compromised social skills, due to the number of hours spent alone in a practice room, perfecting their craft, usually since early childhood. One simply can’t develop social skills when deprived of social situations. Interestingly, musicians must develop great sensitivity and flexibility in order to play well with others in ensemble situations, which requires ability to read body language, ability to adjust to and blend well with others, as well as ability to utilize eye contact. Musicians lacking these abilities simply don’t get the jobs, as being able to “fit in” with one’s section is as important as having individual talent and technique.

    • Hi Sophie,

      Thanks for your comment! First of all, my confidence is back to rock solid, thanks for your concern. It was only during a few years that I had new knowledge about myself and autism that I needed to adjust. Imagine yourself looking back on a lifetime of memories and experiences through new spectacles. Perhaps if you imagined finding out as an adult that you were adopted and your parents weren’t you biological parents, wouldn’t that throw you off a bit at first and you’d wonder who you are and where you came from? I never dealt with these questions per we, just trying to give you an example of how it can feel when you suddenly gain new knowledge that alters your reality and how confusing it can be before you get used to it. Only in my case the autism diagnosis made perfect sense in all aspects and the puzzle of my life came together. I had always felt different but never knew exactly how, because I never had a reference point outside of myself. I have never experienced how it is to think with someone else’s brain than mine. The autism knowledge helped me verbalise to my environment how I was different because they couldn’t fully understand, simply because they on their hand didn’t have a reference to what it feels like to be autistic. Thanks to these tools I can now build bridges to the people around me and I am for the first time experiencing building sustainable friendships and a romantic relationship without the damage miscommunication always used to inflict. Finally I’ve got the tools that work, I’ve found the key! It is still hard work but at least now, the hard work is getting me some place and it’s very exciting. 🙂

      Yes, the article grossly over-simplifies autism. But try yourself to explain this complex condition in a short article. I need to write a book! Articles can seldom cover everything about the topic they treat, but they can still contribute. I tried to choose a couple of things that were important for ME to communicate about and hopefully with more articles the picture will add up. Even if it is short, it had to be cut down because it was to long for the context in which it was going to be published.

      Yes, you are right, there is not one autism-gene but there are many that are associated with autism. During 2000-2011 the NIH grants for autism research increased each year by about $51 million, including a $1 billion boost in 2006. In 2011 there was a funding of $50 billion by Autism Speaks in collaboration with the Beijing Genomics Institute to map the whole genomes of ten thousand individuals from families with two or more autistic children. So by the end of the last decade molecular biologists had identified more than a thousand candidate genes associated with autism. No wonder autism is more prevalent in certain families.

      Of course I couldn’t show signs of autism when I was a baby. I could only communicate on a basic, primitive level with sounds and crying. I couldn’t tell I was hyper sensitive to certain stimuli, show signs of being obsessive, having special needs for predictability, rigid routines or a different way of perceiving human speech and body language. I needed to display a personality to show this and we all know that personality doesn’t exactly show when you’re newborn, just like autism doesn’t. It doesn’t mean it’s not there. Autism is linked to your personality and it is when you start learning to interact socially which other children that you will be able to see it.

      I have never spent my childhood locked up inside practicing cello. Nor did many of my musician friends, we have all been outside playing with other kids. On top of this I grew up with two sisters so I didn’t lack exposure to interacting socially with others. It was only between age 14-17 I lived in the cabin, but I still went to school. And I only really sat inside for many hours practicing every day between the age of 26-28, when I realised I wanted to become an orchestra player. But even here I had to still socialise with about a 100 colleagues almost every day in the orchestras I was substituting in at the time.

      Now about body language. How am I going to explain this? It is not like I can’t figure out what ANY gesture from another human being means. But with people it becomes difficult when they say something and mean another, sarcasm, jokes, playing games with people, intonation of speech, facial mimicking that adds a twist to the words spoken..different way of using words. To look in someone’s face and read what the expression means, how to keep a conversation with smooth turn-taking. These are the things I find particularly difficult. In music it’s a whole other matter firstly because it doesn’t involve speech. And gestures are often adapted to a certain pattern. An upbeat from a conductor will always look like an upbeat, if it doesn’t more people than I will definitely become confused! I learned the musical language, it is not like we are incapable of learning things! And I learned to interpret music often according to style with rules and praxis. The classical music I play is structured and I like structures and systems. When a colleague shows an entry or that the music should go faster, these are very clear signs that are often of the same kind. I know what to look for. So I don’t think you can say that if we can’t read body language we can’t have jobs in the music business, it’s not the same kind of body language as when you interact with someone purely socially without any music involved. The music actually helps me understand the intentions of my colleagues. And if the musical intention is different from the body language, yes then it is confusing to anybody. But that doesn’t happen when you play with good musicians like I am fortunate to do. 🙂 Music is a universal language that people who speak different languages or come from different cultures can communicate and connect with, it seems it is a good tool also for autistic people and neurotypicals to communicate with each other with. Music is amazing.

      Regards, Elisabeth

    • Autistic people have a great sensibility – they do feel strongly what is going on around them like a radar, they do catch negative thoughts even if the person is trying to be friendly. Because they are deeply connected with a higher dimension, they are doing well in the field of music if the talent is there. Usually they do have better concentration, also greater will power and dedication.

  • My mother – now 92 – seems to be an Asperger. This was never discovered in these early days and her life was a kind of challenge for all involved, even herself. Growing up as a child with an Asperger mother is a real expierence, though I got independent very young. Only when she started to grow old and did show old age problems she underwent some tests for Alzheimer and so. She never got tested positive for this but doctors confirmed that she might be an Asperger, with long depression history, of course: beeing different an entire life and never been understood will leave deep wounds. Since 10 years I have to take care about her and I do tell you that this is the hardest thing I ever went through. She is like a five year old Asperger girl. Shy, afraid of everything, dreaming, aggresiv if things are not her way and much more. She is in a nursing home but I have to provide private care besides because she can’t relate to the tough manners there. She is a math genius and totally anchored in the left brain which is still much alert.

  • Found some interesting facts in the net dating from the beginning of the 20th century written by Eugen Bleuler, the man who named Autism Autism. He also talks about Schizophrenia and Dementia in a time when not many have been aware of the topic. I read articles from 1911/12 – published 1926 by a Dutch J.H. van der Hoop.

    The interesting fact which surprised me was his essay where he tried to explain how the thinking of autistic people does work. Eugen Bleuler does say that they do have desires and longings but that they are not able to evaluate the way to reach the goal or even the fact that they might not. In short: they just wish/plan for something and do not consider defeat. Of course this is very frustrating and may lead to a totally retreat, living in a dream world. (all this is very simple but the basics thoughts of the doctor).

    Anyhow I just thought that this might be interesting to share since the wish/longing-connection with total believe is something spiritual but some souls can not coordinate into earthly patterns. Dementia and Schizophrenia seem to sprout out of this as well.

  • Hello Elizabeth – I was looking for a way to thank you… I’m in that phase of trying to find out if I’m on the spectrum or not. I’m a 59 year old male and have been searching for an answer to “that feeling” all my life. I took an online “Aspie Quiz” that resulted in “very likely”… that started my search and this triggered the most amazing event of my life. I felt as if I found the key. My heart and soul feels this is the answer… Yesterday I talked with my physician and he is getting things set up for evaluation. I recommended he watch your video Neurodiversity – the key that unlocked my world. You put into words what I could only struggle at to explain. I feel as if I have a real reason to live now.. I want to know ME and I want to meet others who understand what we go through.

    Thank you again for being a world wide voice and symbol of our struggle. I wish you so much happiness and success being YOU!

    Hugs! – Tom – Columbus, Ohio USA

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