The Meaning of Sound

Filed Under (Sensory Differences) by Estee on 05-05-2010

We naturally wish to describe and understand a perception that seems foreign to many of us. As a parent to an autistic person this means a lot to me — attempting to understand Adam’s perception. Autism “experts” write prolifically on describing what autistic behaviours “mean” and these behaviours, observed by non autistic people, get interpreted and become at best, anemic descriptions of a kind of human experience. Autistic people do better at such descriptions, for obvious reasons. Yet so often, words fail.

I thought I’d post this video by musician John Cage as it provokes some thought on trying to describe the meaning of sound, that which is sensory and pleasurable, and for some autistic people, painful. As we know that so much of autistic experience is sensory, it got me thinking about the sensory experience — how life (that is, our “sensory life” ) is experienced differently by some and how others who do not understand human difference might attempt to explain inadequately.

Cage goes on to say that sound has no meaning — it just is. I thought this video was not only interesting for the purposes of thinking about perception, but also how we experience and attempt to describe autistic people. For me anyway, I felt some intersections when watching this and it in many ways reminded me of the In My Language video made several years ago by Amanda Baggs (which for convenience in case new readers have not viewed it, I have placed after the John Cage video):


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.