The Autistic Child and The Song

for blog - ian singingMore than once, I have seen a programme on television about an autistic child and the parents have said quite categorically “He’s non-verbal”, and I have heard that child in the background, singing.

Not just a tuneless wailing. Singing a song I know – and singing it recognizably, words and all.

When I hear this, I am the person hopping up and down on the sofa, pointing wildly at the television. “There’s your ‘in’,” I’m shouting. “The child is showing you a way to communicate!”

Okay, I’ll try to be calm about this and break it down.

What if an autistic child hears language as a long string of sound, instead of separate words?  Not just in a song, but generally?

How intimidating must it be for a child if he can’t hear where one word ends, and the next begins? And how can he possibly hope to learn them individually?

I realised a long time ago that Ian didn’t hear words separately, he heard them joined together. Slurred.  Occasionally generally – remember, we had been teaching Ian individual words since he was very young, so he had a head start – but most definitely in songs.  When I realised this, I wrote out his favourite song, word by word, neatly and clearly on several pieces of A4 paper. Then I sang the song with him, at the same time pointing to each individual word. For Ian, it was a kind of minor epiphany. The long strings of sound he thought he heard became individual words he recognised.  The others became words he could learn.

His love of music became a way to teach him, and the songs he knew became lessons in themselves.

So the next time you hear a ‘non-verbal’ autistic child singing, stop, and listen.

Do you know that song? And if you do, what can you do with that knowledge?



The above photograph of Ian singing appears, along with many others, in my book “From the Inside – raising, teaching, loving an autistic child“, available in paperback and eBook from the non-fiction section of

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