I’ve seen a lot written about sensory issues. I wrote about the difficulty I have with pitch differentiation when combined with volume changes. This is something I wrote about years ago, and I’m reproducing again, since I still haven’t seen much written about this type of sensory interaction. It’s not pitch or volume I have trouble with. It’s the combination of pitch and volume. I suspect this is a pretty significant issue (not necessarily pitch and volume, but the idea of combinations of sensory stimuli that are difficult for autistic people, compared to neurotypicals, to process) but one without much research behind it.
Volume and Pitch Difficulty Test
I have trouble determining if a given note is higher or lower in pitch then another if the volume is also different. To me, pitch and volume are seen as the same thing to my conscious mind, although I can appreciate music and tell when something is wrong with a musical piece. To explain this to my musical friends, I put together some sounds that describe what can’t hear consciously. If you want to test yourself, follow along with my directions, below.
All tones that I link to are in MP3 format. Your computer will need to be set up to play MP3 files for this to work. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to provide support on how to get MP3 files to play properly, although most computer people should be able to help.
Also note that I suspect most autistics hear these tones fine. In fact, some autistics excellent musical abilities. However, I know I don’t hear these tones the same way neurotypicals do. (Update: informally, most of the autistics I’ve talked to have no problem with these tones)
I hear these tones in the same way I suspect an NT does. This file (you can play it by clicking on the above link) consist of six different tones. The tones are the low volume versions of the low, medium, and high pitch tones that I use, followed by the high volume
versions of the same tones. If you can’t comfortably hear all six tones, the below links won’t work. I can easily tell, within the first three tones and the second three tones, which one is the highest and lowest pitch – if I was what is usually considered “tone deaf”, I wouldn’t be able to do this.
These are the test tones. Click each one ONCE and try to guess which tone has the highest pitch (the first, second, or third tone). None of my neurotypical friends have any difficulty telling the highest pitch, although I find it very difficult. The first and fourth sets of tones are the most difficult for me – the first time I heard either set, I couldn’t tell which notes were highest in pitch – they all sounded like the same pitch to me, although the other two didn’t have a high degree of certainty for me.
There are two links in each bullet below – first, the “Test Tones” link is the tones themselves. The “Answer” link will pop up a new window with information about which tone had the highest pitch. Remember, you’re listening for pitch, not volume. So, it might be the quietest, the loudest, or the tone that has a volume in between the quietest and loudest that is the highest pitch.
Can you do it? Does anyone else have similar auditory issues to me?