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The Trailblazers Creating Space For ASD Awareness In The Aus Music Scene

1 April 2022 | 3:30 pm | Twistie Chaney

"If we stopped worrying about how much everyone does or doesn’t fit I think we’d all be braver, more curious and much kinder.”

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It’s not often that neurodiversity takes the spotlight in our conversations about music. With today marking the start of Autism Awareness Month, we're taking this moment to acknowledge those striving to create a more inclusive space for people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) within our country’s music community.

A beloved Australian artist who has recently been using her music to shed light on ASD awareness is the ever-adorable Alex Lynn, who you will likely know as Alex The Astronaut. Last month, Lynn released her new single Octopus unpacking her own relationship with ASD, following her diagnosis last year. In an interview with triple j, Lynn says: "I kinda see parts of [autism] as a disability and for other parts I see it as kind of like a superpower.

"It took me a while to get to the point where I understood that lots of the things that I'm good at started with ASD, and make me special in a way - if that's not too cheesy."

While the track appears bubbly and upbeat at first listen, the lyrics reveal a deeper story, diving into the exhausting anxiety of constantly moulding to societal expectations.

“I think I’m like an octopus sometimes / Trying so hard to blend in / I forgot that I have something I could give.”

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Speaking to NME, Lynn explains the core message she intended for the track is: “All of us need a little help from our friends sometimes and all of us have a superpower that could help the world grow. If we stopped worrying about how much everyone does or doesn’t fit I think we’d all be braver, more curious and much kinder.”

So if that doesn’t melt your heart, I don’t know what will. While being a guaranteed smile-inducing ear-worm, Octopus is such an important track, not only for its celebration of neurodiversity but also for the insight and awareness it shares surrounding ASD.

But as Lynn crucially emphasises, “No person’s autism is the same. You meet one person with autism, and you’ve met one person with autism.”

Like countless live music-lovers with ASD, Lynn accepts that she just has to be careful while she’s performing or enjoying gigs to avoid sensory burnout.

"I love going to festivals, I love music shows. I love being a punter, I love camping and all of that stuff," she says. "I just wear earplugs and I know when I need to leave."

While these challenges are felt widely across the board for people with ASD or sensory sensitivities, there has been a gradual surfacing of music events catering for broader inclusivity in this sector.

After three years of massive success, Ability Fest, spearheaded by the Dylan Alcott Foundation, has become one of the world’s most accessible music festivals, aiming to set a new standard of inclusivity across the live music scene. As a part of last year’s extensive accessibility considerations, Ability Fest provided a dedicated sensory area and quiet zones - The Chill Hill - to allow those who needed a break to comfortably rest and recharge without being forced to leave the event.

Via Instagram @abilityfest

Some major arts festivals around the country have steadily been incorporating more sensory-friendly considerations. For the past few years, Sydney Festival has included a line-up of ‘relaxed’ performances to their schedules that ensure an open-door policy, mindful modifications to sound and lighting, support aids and quiet areas. However, as for mainstream music festivals and even live music venues in general, we’ve still got a fair way to go in terms of accessibility across the board.

But what can we do from a punter’s perspective to be more inclusive of our sensory-sensitive music mates? While we’re all out to have a good time, taking a moment to be thoughtful about our surroundings can really make a difference to someone else’s night. Something as simple as:

  • Leaving chilled spaces or seated areas free enough for those who might need a little break. If you and your mates find the last empty booth at the back, know that it might not always be the best place to project your enthusiasm on the BEST NIGHT EVER at max volume.
  • Trying your best not to constantly elbow jab your fellow moshers. While this can prove difficult, especially depending on the show, if you don’t have to be all up in someone’s grill, best to save everyone the body slams and boogie within your own radius.
  • Not staring at people wearing headphones/ear-defenders, or people who may walk out mid-song. It’s not rude to respect your own boundaries, and if it’s not affecting you, there is no need to give someone a hard time.
  • And of course, keep your eye out for someone who might be having a rough night alone. You never know how far a quick ‘Are you okay?’ can go.