Neurophysiological Correlates of Musical Giftedness in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Despite their social deficits and behavioral abnormalities, individuals with autism may frequently display unexpected and unusual areas of interest and giftedness in music. In the present work, we discuss the natural predisposition to music shown in autism using a neurophysiological framework, exploring the possible correlations between the musical experience and the connectivity alterations of the autistic brain. After a brief description of the complex cerebral organization in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the article focuses on the microcircuit alterations, in particular on the excess synaptic excitation and minicolumnopathy, which are strongly linked to the peculiar attention in detecting, processing, and focusing on detail, widely described by the weak central coherence theory. Superior pitch discrimination, labeling, and memory, demonstrated in ASD, even seem to derive from these complex mental processes. The connectivity alterations seem to be also present in the cerebellum, where they damage the timekeeper function and produce severe dysfunctions in rhythmicity and synchronization of thoughts and emotions. We propose that music might restore the natural rhythmicity in the cerebellum of patients with ASD and that this could explain the natural predisposition to music seen in this condition. Finally, we focus on the usefulness of music for rehabilitative purposes.