A Champion for Autistic Musicians

Nov. 19, 2015

Being a musician is one of the most frustratingly wonderful professions.

You love what you do. You enjoy teaching students, performing for inspired audiences and patching together enough gigs to make a living. You also encounter those who lack appreciation for the amount of time and effort it takes to be a successful musician, which often comes across as invalidating.

Studying music in college is not simply jam sessions with no homework and an easy college degree. It requires hours of daily practice and limited free time on the weekends. It also involves weekly individual lessons, participation in numerous ensembles, and knowledge of music theory, history, acoustics, anatomy, physiology and psychology.

To me, it is the ultimate labor of love.

Although music is often considered a less-than-academic field, it is very important to me that I conduct research and constantly learn and invent new ways of approaching music. A particular passion of mine is how autistic musicians succeed in music, and what might help them get a job in music.

What do you think of when you hear the word "autistic"? Perhaps you think of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "The Big Bang Theory" TV show or individuals being extraordinarily gifted in math and music. Research has found that those on the autism spectrum often are naturally talented at math and music.

I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in 2012. In my research, I hope to determine the ways in which those with autism can thrive in an academic music environment. This includes examining the challenges faced in an academic music environment, resources that are beneficial, practice methods that are successful, the means of learning, and any tools, classes, services and advice used to succeed.

Because music is a field in which those with autism tend to be naturally gifted and passionate, it is important to determine the strengths they can maximize — but also the possible hurdles that can be overcome through awareness, practice or academic services. No two people with autism will have the same experiences, but it is likely that trends will emerge. Determining patterns in success, difficulties, modes of learning and other valuable coping tools can help autistic musicians.

The information gathered from my research and the comprehensive surveys of autistic musicians majoring in music, disability services in colleges and conservatories, teachers and leading researchers in the field of autism will help determine the things that services, classes and teachers can offer to assist autistic musicians the most in their schooling and music careers. This is important. Those on the spectrum can prosper in the field of music if they have jobs that support them and nourish their passion.

Who knows?

Maybe I'll interview the next Mozart.

Portrait photo: John de Dios/UA Graduate Center

Stephanie Hoeckley is a UA doctoral student in musical arts with a focus in flute performance. Hoeckley is also a member of the 2015-2016 cohort of University Fellows, a UA program that supports some of the top graduate students across campus. A Florida native, Hoeckley earned a bachelor's degree in music at the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master's degree in music from Arizona State University, where she expanded her performance repertoire and teaching credentials. Hoeckley has been a finalist in the Florida Flute Association’s College Young Artist Competition and in ASU's and UCF’s Concerto Competitions. In addition, she was principal flutist in many of the schools' ensembles, and she maintains a private flute studio. Hoeckley's interests include the Alexander Technique, acoustics, entrepreneurship and autism awareness.