Dude’s music index–have you made the list?

At a meeting at Dude’s program last month, we learned that he has “indexed” most of the staff members. Apparently he has specific songs that he associates with each individual. He grins and starts singing the song when he encounters the specific staffer, encouraging them to join in.

The site director rattled off the different songs for each person. As she went through the list, I thought of other instances where Dude assigned songs to specific people.

Our oldest cousin = You’ve Got the Love by Florence and The Machine

Our second oldest cousin = The Hamster Dance

There was a therapist/respite person back in the day that he associated with music from Rent because that was about the only thing she played while driving around.

There are tons of other people that I’m probably forgetting. Also, I don’t think he has a specific song tied to our parents or me. He knows he can throw out pretty much any tune and we’ll be on the same page as him.

Anyway, when I heard this, I immediately thought of “Autism’s First Child,” an article that appeared in The Atlantic back in August 2010. The authors check in on Donald Triplett, aged 77, who was one of the 11 case studies featured in Dr. Leo Kanner’s first description of autistic disorder back in the 1940s. The article is long, but worth a read if you’re interested. There’s one particular segment that stuck out to me:

“He [Donald] even has a habit of assigning numbers to people he encounters, a sort of internal indexing system. An old acquaintance named Buddy Lovett, who resides one town over, in Morton, Mississippi, told us that Donald had assigned him the number 333 sometime in the late 1950s. Though he had not seen Donald for several years, he urged, with a hint of mischief, “Next time you see him, go ahead: ask him what my number is.”

Indeed, the next day Donald nailed Lovett’s number almost before hearing the end of the question. We ran this test several times, presenting the names of people all over Forest who had told us of being “numbered” over the years. Donald recalled every one, without hang or hiccup, though he can’t explain the underlying system. The numbers just come to him, he says, and then stay forever.

Likewise, those who receive a Donald Number seem to remember it for the rest of their lives. An indelible distinction, a recognition they’ll never have to share—it may feel akin to an honor.”

Dude’s musical indexing system is kind of similar to Donald’s numbering system. However, Dude’s seems to be a bit easier to explain. The chosen song tends to be something that was playing when he was having fun with the person, or a song that someone shared with him or sung to him.

But I think it also says something about the power of music. Think of how much music ties to our memories! When I hear Spice Girls, I think of the full year my girl cousins and I spent fighting over who got to be Baby Spice. When I hear the “1812 Overture,” I think of the homecoming game in college when the band was on the field in the pouring rain and the cannon blasts intermingled with the loud claps of thunder. When I hear “Georgia on My Mind,” I think of one of my best friends from high school.

Music is the way Dude makes sense of his world. It’s pretty neat when people meet him halfway and use his affinity to connect with him 🙂


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