In her third original piece for OAR, Jennifer Rose explains how music has impacted her as a person on the autism spectrum.
Music has undoubtedly played a huge role in my life. From when I was five years old in a post-9/11 America hearing little kids belt out patriotic songs, to when I was thirteen and so angry at the world that I felt that the only people who truly understood my pain were Avril Lavigne and Kanye West, these songs have shaped my life as a whole. After all, as someone with autism, my “special interests” tend to gravitate towards entertainment.
While I’m more of a movies/TV person, I’ve had favorite musicians as well. However, one genre that really appealed to me is something that I’d like to call “indie angst.” This genre in particular combines the bare-bones of coffee house rock with the down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is moodiness of the emo/punk genres of the early/mid 2000’s. These songs were a welcome escape from the mediocre electronica of more formulaic stars, the ones Dad complained about me liking because, and I quote, “These celebrities are people celebrated by the media, but they’re all phonies.” No wonder my family preferred the “coffee house” station on our car radio, especially my mom.
One band that especially stood out to me was 21 Pilots. Not only was I fascinated by their unconventional melodies, but as a college student, their lyrics really spoke to me. “When I was younger I thought all my fears would shrink/But now I’m insecure, and care what people think.” When I was little and more disconnected from reality, I would create cartoon fantasies with myself and my “friends,” but also got excited to grow up. However, as a nineteen-year-old I became terrified as to where the world was heading, what with my parents constantly complaining about the rest of the world, then getting frustrated at me for daring to get upset about it. After all, it was (apparently) my fault; I was supposed to be more focused on my studies. However, due to my disability, I tend to get “stuck” on topics, not just favorite ones (much to the chagrin of my parents), but unpleasant ones as well.
Another song that spoke to me was “Broken” by lonelytheband, about connecting with others with similar problems. As someone on the autism spectrum with extreme emotional issues, I felt that there was no one who could connect with me, as others with similar issues were too disabled to really be “like me.” However, I’ve met others on the spectrum who are like me, such as my friend in Georgia, who as a bonus loves movies and pop culture too! Even at the College of St. Elizabeth, where I’m the only autistic student, there are still “Let’s Talk” events to help students.
Even more conventional pop music speaks to me. My two favorite singers now are Lorde and Alessia Cara, two singers who, like me, were also born in 1996, and therefore really reflect the attitudes of my generation. Lorde’s “Royals” was popular the year before I went to college, and it spoke of not fitting in with the “beautiful people” of the music industry. “We’ll never be Royals…that kinda love just ain’t for us/We crave a different kind of buzz.” I had even read in a Seventeen magazine article that, while Lorde didn’t look like most pop stars with her vintage-goth style, she was being true to herself, and that’s why her music was so great. Growing up, I wanted to be like other girls, but eventually realized that being my adorably quirky self was most important. As for Alessia Cara, her song “Here” was about being trapped at a party she didn’t like. Not only was she not having fun, she was disgusted at what was going on at the party: “The boy who’s throwing up ‘cause he can’t take what’s in his cup no more/Oh God, why am I here?” I remember doing a personality quiz about such a situation when I was about nine and more addled by my disability. When I took it, I remember thinking, “They can stay at the party. As long as they don’t do the reckless behavior, it’s okay, right?” Ten years and much more maturity later, I realize how harmful that decision could be. For me, the song is a reflection of life itself. When I hear my parents talk about the terrible things happening in the world, and how trapped I feel, I feel as though I’m at a similar party, one I don’t even have the option of leaving.
For my next foray into life (my graduation), I’ve decided to make a playlist to help me through the experience. It will include both songs about graduation (Vitamin C’s “Graduation”) as well as songs about reaching for the stars (Jason Mraz’s “Have It All”), but the important thing is that the playlist will help me finish out in a “blaze of glory” as Dad puts it. All in all, my teenage years had a really fun soundtrack!
About the Author
Jennifer Rose a student at the College of St. Elizabeth, majoring in English. Jennifer published a book, It’s Not A Perfect World But I’ll Take It: 50 Life Lessons for Teens Like Me Who Are Sort of (You Know) Autistic (Skyhorse Publishing), and is working on a play. Despite her struggles, like her difficulty with organization, Jennifer has worked extremely hard to get where she is today. As a self-advocate, she wants to support other people on the spectrum, and show them what they can achieve with the right support system. You can follow her on twitter here.