People with autism spectrum disorder sometimes have difficulty recognising emotions and other codes that are essential for living in society. However, they excel at processing complex systems such as mathematics, finance and computers. Because it requires both empathy and systemizing skills, music (especially classical music) could be an ideal gateway to teach this population to better navigate the socioemotional world. Ève-Marie Quintin, a professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill University, is testing this so-called “empathizing-systemizing” theory.

More specifically, she and her collaborators are studying musical learning among children with autism spectrum disorder in a school setting. Workshops on expression through percussion instruments were held in school in the Draveurs (Gatineau) and Trois-Lacs (Vaudreuil) school service centres, as well as the Le Sommet school (Montréal). The group sessions were led by musicians from the ÉducaTED Foundation, who are trained to work with this special-needs clientele. Both autistic and neurotypical individuals were invited to participate in this ongoing project.

The preliminary findings are encouraging. The children with autism spectrum disorder who attended the classes showed a continuous engagement and motivation for the music workshops over a period of several months. Furthermore, the closeness of their relationship with their teachers improved, according to the latter. More importantly, the young people’s natural affinity for music promoted their inclusion in the social body.