Hayley Canham, one of the four Matildas
Hayley Canham, one of the four Matildas

Listen to an amazing rendition of “Quiet” from Matilda the Musical sung by Hayley Canham

I stumbled upon this fantastic YouTube video of Hayley Canham singing “Quiet” from Matilda the Musical.  I haven’t seen the play yet.  Nor have I read the children’s novel it is based upon (written by Roald Dahl).  So I listened with a completely fresh set up ears.  Try it yourself:

Amazing performance!  Brava, brava Hayley!

 

In “Quiet,” all that noise seemed painful

As I listened carefully to the very intense first part of the song, where Matilda seems to be suffering from the noise all around her, I found myself wondering “What’s the diagnosis?”  (It’s really hard to turn off my doctor brain).  So, I tried to find story descriptions that would tell me if Matilda was written with some kind of mental health diagnosis in mind.  All I could find via google is that she is incredibly bright, has a superpower (telekinesis) and parents who were abusive – and one of her teachers, was very mean and picked on her.

But when I read some of the YouTube viewer’s comments, this is what I found:

“This song feels like how it feels, as an Aspie, to be overwhelmed by noise and to retreat inside yourself to find silence.  My friends don’t understand why I like silence and quiet so much, but the world is often far too noisy for me to think clearly.”

With a reply:

“Same here. me and my brother are Aspies and we feel exactly like this xxxx.”

 

So, does Matilda have Aspberger’s?  Is she an Aspie?

First of all, I worried a bit about using the term “aspie” even though the YouTube commenters applied the term to themselves and their sibs.  Googling took me to the Urban Dictionary, where it stated that Aspie is not a put down and evidently folks with Aspbergers may use the term to describe themselves (or others with the Aspbergers personality type).  It is worth reading the user-generated definitions to get the full flavor of how people feel about this term.  Here is just one:

“An aspie is one who has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is believed to be part of the autism spectrum. Aspies, while being quite gifted verbally, have social, emotional, and sensory integration difficulties, among other; Aspie is an affectionate term, and is not meant as a put down.”

Since it is pretty hard to diagnose someone from one YouTube video – especially when the someone is an actress playing a character – I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what we know about noise intolerance in autism spectrum. It turns out, individuals with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with sensory processing, not just sound, but also vision, touch, taste, smell, balance and body awareness (aka proprioception).  And the problem is not just hypersensitivity, but in some people, it may be hyposensitivity. To make things even more complicated, there is variability in the manifestation of the sensory abnormalities so there is not one uniform pattern that can be easily anticipated and studied.

In a paper published in Pediatric Research (May 2011) titled “Sensory Processing in Autism:  A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings,”  researchers suggest that these abnormalities in sensory processing could be the underlying cause of some of the learning and emotional manifestations of the disorder.  For example, the authors conjectured that,

“…if the auditory input is perceived as unpleasant or noxious, affected individuals will learn to avoid auditory input,and thus curtail the learning that comes from listening to the people and world around them.”

They go on to conclude,

“as the neurophysiologic data mount, we suggest that differences in sensory processing may actually cause core features of autism such as language delay (auditory processing) and difficulty reading emotion from faces (visual processing).”

Whether sensory processing turns out to be the primary neurophysiologic abnormality in autism spectrum or only one of multiple differences from “normal” brains, it certainly seems to explain some of the behaviors we typically associate with the condition. Listen again as Matilda (Hayley) explains.

6 COMMENTS

  1. So right about, the song Quiet. I am involved in training for Autism Awareness, but mainly Aspergers and HFA. We use ‘Quiet’ just before the lunch break, after talking about meltdowns and shutdowns. We have a panel of people on the training who are all diagnosed with ASD who contribute and answer questions during the course. Two have to leave the room during the song because it’s too upsetting for them. I myself cry every time I hear it.

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