Sick Neck

This will be a very brief podcast because I have actually lost my voice. But take a minute to listen, because I have two quick stories to tell you.

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First, it is very interesting to see the reaction of some of my friends with autism when I lose my voice. It is especially touching to notice responses of individuals who are typically rather unresponsive to other people and somewhat disconnected in social situations. When they notice the croaking sounds, some friends who are usually disengaged actually look at me, often with a quizzical, concerned look. One youngster reached out gently and touched my mouth as if trying to see why it did not work. Another young adult with limited language skills looked at me for a few moments, then asked, “Are you broken?” An 8-year-old heard me tell her parents I had lost my voice. She jumped up and exclaimed, “I’ll help you find it!” Her sincere good wishes made our hearts glow.

My hoarseness reminds me of a story by the mom of one of my long-time music therapy students. When he was in elementary school, the youngster with autism came home complaining of a “sick neck.” His teacher and parents assumed he was talking about sore or strained muscles. The situation escalated overnight and at school the next day until the frustrated youngster exploded into a temper tantrum. Something he said made his mom realize the youngster wasn’t talking about muscle pain. His term, “sick neck,” referred to a sore throat!

The “sick neck” experience helps me remember that we must all avoid assuming we know what a person with autism is thinking or feeling. And we must all adopt the role of detective to help translate terms and descriptions used by our friends so we can keep those lines of communication open.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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