Hosted by Extra’s Maria Menounos and Actor Michael Chiklis


LOS ANGELES, CA, October 20, 2013 – Grammy® Award-winning music legend Dave Grohl

will headline Autism Speaks’ Third Annual BLUE JEAN BALL, presented by The GUESS?

Foundation, on Thursday, October 24, 2013, at Boulevard 3 in Hollywood.

Dave Grohl is the lead vocalist, guitarist, and main songwriter for the Foo Fighters, a band he

founded after being the drummer for the American grunge band Nirvana. Grohl is an eleven-

time Grammy® winner, and was Grammy®-nominated a total of 25 times. He has also taken

home an American Music Award and two MTV Music Video Awards.


Also performing will be rock artist Rick Springfield, who won a Grammy® for his No. 1 hit

“Jessie’s Girl” in 1981 and received an additional three Grammy® nominations. Oscar® and

Grammy®-winning artist Ryan Bingham will be performing as well. He recently wrote and

recorded “Until I’m One With You,” the theme-song for FX’s drama-series, The Bridge. Bingham

performed and co-wrote Crazy Heart’s (2009) award-winning theme song “The Weary Kid,”

earning him an Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe, and Critics Choice Award, with the American

Music Association naming him “Artist of the Year.”


Also taking the stage will be American Idol finalist James Durbin, who is recognized for placing

in the top four of Season 10, while openly sharing his challenges of living with Aspergers

and Tourettes. In addition, The White Buffalo with singer/songwriter Jake Smith (Shadows,

Greys and Evil Ways) will perform. World-renowned DJ Splyce will be providing entertainment

throughout the evening.


The Third Annual BLUE JEAN BALL is honoring Chuck Saftler, President of Program Strategy

and Chief Operating Officer of FX Networks, and Autism Speaks Board of Directors’ Member.

Saftler will receive the tribute for his dedication to autism awareness. Hosting the event will be

television personality Maria Menounos (Extra) and Emmy® Award-winning Actor Michael Chiklis

(The Shield, Vegas, The Commish).


The Autism Speaks BLUE JEAN BALL is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for

innovative autism research and resources for individuals and families affected by the

disorder. Tickets, sponsorship opportunities and additional information are available at



“One in 88 children is currently diagnosed with autism, and the annual cost for families living

with the disorder is an average of $60,000,” stated Matt Asner, Executive Director of Southern

California for Autism Speaks. “Now, more than ever, we need to raise awareness and assure

that research, advocacy and family service initiatives continue to be funded. What better way to

make a little noise than with a rock and roll concert?”


Past participants and honorees have included Sarah McLachlan, Toni Braxton, Paul Marciano,

photographer Rob Shanahan, Sinbad, Brooke White, Raphael Saadiq, Sarah Shahi, Beth

Reisgraph, Nikki Reed and Paul MacDonald, among others.


Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism

spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders

are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as

well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated one in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 78

percent increase in six years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.


About Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding

research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism

spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism

Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with

autism. Mr. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC

and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed nearly $200 million to research

and developing innovative resources for families. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are

held in more than 100 cities across North America. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established

partnerships in more than 40 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and

awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit http://www.AutismSpeaks.org .


Established in 1981, GUESS began as a jeans company and has since successfully grown into a global

lifestyle brand. Today, GUESS designs, markets and distributes full collections of women’s, men’s

and children’s apparel as well as accessories. Throughout the years, the GUESS image has been

portrayed in unforgettable, innovative campaigns that have made the brand a household name. GUESS

is distributed throughout the United States and Canada in fine department stores, its retail specialty and

factory stores, and domestically on its online stores. GUESS has licensees and distributors in South

America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. In addition to shopping online, you can find more information

on GUESS at http://www.guess.com.

My pilot in music and autism: thoughts on empathy, mirroring and rapport

I’ve been employed at California State University, Northridge since last September as a research assistant in the psychology department working on a study in autism, working memory and music. I completed my training and began administration of the study in January of this year. I’ve tested ten clinical subjects, three control subjects, and loved nearly every moment. What I’d like to speak about is a fairly recent observation.

It’s nothing short of ironic that I am almost identically following in the academic footsteps of my mother. Despite the fact that she was not satisfied until the completion of her second doctorate in phenomenological and existential psychology, she spent a great deal of time before and after as an independently contracted school diagnostician. When I told her I was to be trained on how to properly administer the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for children, she was beside herself. I suppose it should not be ironic, then, that the one thing I’ve come to enjoy most in the process is what I’d heard years of stories pertaining to when I was a child. That aspect is the outcome when one properly executes and achieves psychological rapport.

The concept of rapport can obviously be applied in a number of contexts and situation, and like most things, can be pursued and established for good or ill. It is a technique used in manipulation, in sales, and in seduction. It can also used to coax out life-saving information from victims in the midst trauma, to bond with strangers in a new environment, and closest to home for me, to comfort and elicit high performance qualities from nervous children brought in for an extensive battery of psychoeducational evaluation. As they frequently wonder “What is wrong with me?” or “Why am I here?” I have learnt a bit of understanding and reaching out can go for miles. One of the most interesting features  I’ve observed thus far as that the children on the ASD scale-children thought to commonly possess a ‘faulty’ mirror neuron system that would keep them from typically developed empathy responses- should seem so sensitive to their surroundings.

Every child, with the exception of one (who in the end did not meet the criteria for the study), has not only displayed a warm demeanor and trusting disposition, but also has volunteered to sing back to me in my pilot study. After testing my first two control subjects, I realized that asking high school boys to sing to me may as well have been climbing Mt.Everest (or so I thought).  However, nine out of ten of my clinical subjects, after my initial singing the pilot study to them, felt comfortable enough to sing it right back to me, as my original protocol dictates. This reasoning can be due to a number of things, but it’s an achievement I was unable to make with any control subjects. All I know is had the first autistic male not simply asked that instead of speaking the phrases after me, “Can I sing it out loud like you did?” I never would have continued the pilot in that manner, and heard the other 8 boys sing.

It is small testing group thus far to be sure. I’m still sorting through data, and trying to discern exactly what it shows about the empathy, musicianship and working memory of the young, high-functioning autistic population. Until I do, I simply wanted to share the portion of it that made me so incredibly happy. While the most difficult part of the project was reading through each individual IEP and noting every social and emotional setback the child had experienced, the easiest part was talking and joking with the boys about how much they played video games, that they were eating all the oreos and juice set aside for their parents, and what lovely singing voices they had. I do not always love the computational administration, or working with personnel who do not share my passion for children. I do, however, love these kids, and have all the hope for them in the world. Rapport does not have to be a dangerous method of transference and countertransference that sets the psychologist on the path of no return. It does not have to be an empty therapeutic tactic to secure a goal with little regard of what the patient really needs. It really can just be taking a short amount of time out of your day, and looking at life through another’s perspective. One will often be amazed with what they find.

Neural systems for speech and song in autism

In commencement of the administration of my pilot study (as well as my primary investigator’s full experiments) in working memory, autism and music, here is an interesting article I came across today. The idea simply drives forward what we already know: where subjects who suffer from aphasia and other language difficulties falter in normative speech patterns, music provides a far higher stimulation in areas of the brain (this study concentrating on the left inferior frontal gyrus in particular) and thus lends to speech development which ordinarily may not have been possible.


Despite language disabilities in autism, music abilities are frequently preserved. Paradoxically, brain regions associated with these functions typically overlap, enabling investigation of neural organization supporting speech and song in autism. Neural systems sensitive to speech and song were compared in low-functioning autistic and age-matched control children using passive auditory stimulation during functional magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging. Activation in left inferior frontal gyrus was reduced in autistic children relative to controls during speech stimulation, but was greater than controls during song stimulation. Functional connectivity for song relative to speech was also increased between left inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus in autism, and large-scale connectivity showed increased frontal–posterior connections. Although fractional anisotropy of the left arcuate fasciculus was decreased in autistic children relative to controls, structural terminations of the arcuate fasciculus in inferior frontal gyrus were indistinguishable between autistic and control groups. Fractional anisotropy correlated with activity in left inferior frontal gyrus for both speech and song conditions. Together, these findings indicate that in autism, functional systems that process speech and song were more effectively engaged for song than for speech and projections of structural pathways associated with these functions were not distinguishable from controls.

The open access html doc may be found here and for those interested:

DOI: 10.1093/brain/awr335

As I begin my very first experimental session, I’ll do my best to keep a log here, simply because I very much enjoy the feedback, and it helps to keep my thoughts aligned.

Autism, Gabrielle Giffords, and the Neuroscience Behind “The Singing Therapy”

As many of you know, I recently attended the Second World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology in Vienna. Though there were many intriguing presentations, one presentation in particular stood out. In 1996, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug (Boston, Harvard Medical School) performed an experiment to test the shared neural correlation of singing and speech. A portion of the abstract follows:

Using a modified sparse temporal sampling fMRI technique, we examined both shared and distinct neural correlates of singing and speaking. In the experimental conditions, 10 right-handed subjects were asked to repeat intoned (“sung”) and non-intoned (“spoken”) bisyllabic words/phrases that were contrasted with conditions controlling for pitch (“humming”) and the basic motor processes associated with vocalization (“vowel production”) (Özdemir, Norton, and Schlaug, 2006).

The remainder of the paper may be found here, but I will try to summarize the result. Basically, by actually singing the words or phrase, and not simply speaking or humming (referred to as ‘intoned speaking’), there occurred additional right lateralized activation of the superior temporal gyrus, inferior central operculum, and inferior frontal gyrus. What this means for the rest of us? This activation is now more than ever believed to be reason that while patients suffering from aphasia due to stroke or other varying brain damage may be unable to speak, they are able to sing.

That was in 2006. In a few short years, music therapy and the applied neuroscience of music have all but exploded-the question is, why? As many publications have noted, the idea that music can be used in rehabilitation has been around for a century or more. So what has caused such media coverage in the last few years? My simple theory is because through the popularization of these techniques’ success via persons in the public eye, everyone is beginning to understand that it just works.

Speaking of the public eye, a friend sent me this article from NPR this morning. Though I was vaguely familiar with this success story, it really surprised me to see it mentioned in national media. For those unaware, a current hot topic in science journalism is the method of therapy Gabrielle Giffords has chosen after she suffered massive brain trauma. I’ve run into cases similar to this one before, but it was what kind of music therapy that really caught my attention: Melodic Intonation Therapy. The reason this really caught my attention is because this is precisely the groundbreaking (and very successful) research Dr. Schlaug presented at the conference in Vienna, only his use was with nonverbal Autistic children. Though Schlaug’s research largely pertains to other faculties, he set out in this case to test AMMT (Auditory Motor Mapping Therapy, a kind of specifically targeted ASD therapy akin to Melodic Intonation Therapy used for stroke patients with aphasia) against normative Controlled Speech Therapy.

Without going too in-depth, what he and his team discovered was that patients who engaged in singing (as opposed to merely speaking or humming) showed additional right lateralized activation of the superior temporal gyrus, inferior central operculum, and inferior frontal gyrus. Due to this, a strong case can be made as to why aphasic patients with left-hemisphere brain lesions are able to sing the text of a song whilst being incapable of speaking the same words. What this means for the whole of this ‘Singing Therapy’ is that by being able to work with brain regions such as Broca’s area which may facilitate the mapping of sound to action, all kinds of different strides may be made linguistically in patients with left-hemisphere brain damage. People who suffer from neurological impairments or disorders that would otherwise be completely unable to communicate verbally may now have that chance. In the words of Dr. Schlaug, “When there is no left hemisphere, you need the right hemisphere to work.”

To get back to congresswoman Giffords, I’d like to take a moment to talk about what is so important and unique with her situation by looking at her case from point of impact to recovery. Nearly one year ago, Giffords sustained a massive head trauma via a bullet that went directly through her brain. Unfortunately, when the bullet entered in this way, it didn’t stop at destroying the tissue in its path (which was for her in the left hemisphere); it also damaged the surrounding neurons, causing the brain to quickly swell and put her in immediate fatal danger of hematomas and other complications. Because of this, surgery was necessary right away to remove a portion of her skull in order for the swelling to, as it were, breathe. The surgery Giffords took part in was the once risky decompressive hemicraniectomy. For more information on this procedure, there’s a fantastic post by Bradley Voytek over at Oscillatory Thoughts including some great data, analysis and images on the process. If the congresswoman’s circumstances are ringing any bells for anyone, it’s because it bears some resemblance to arguably one of the most famous head trauma cases in neuroscience and psychology as a whole-Phineas Gage. I shall soon share some thoughts on Gage, and why he remains so near and dear to my heart (and certainly to the heart of Antonio Damasio) in terms of emotional intelligence and neuroscience, but until then, some parting thoughts on Giffords.

In the beginning of this road to recovery, most were skeptical that Giffords would ever be able to speak again, in any vein. However, through the process of working in Melodic Intonation Therapy with her music therapist, she has gone from singing short words and phrases (in minor thirds, the prominently used interval in this therapy) to singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to more structurally complex and well-known jazz and rock standards such as I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and American Pie. She has made massive strides in her recovery process, and continues to make more every day. This is only one example of the effectiveness and hope this “Singing Therapy” is bringing to the medical field. Even after speaking to Dr. Schlaug inVienna and finding he has “absolutely no interest whatsoever” in psychological disorders, I continue to be enthusiastic in the strides he and his team are making in the applied neuroscience of music.

A note: I continue to be amused by what a small world the pragmatic combining of music and neuroscience remains. Upon reaching the end of the NPR article, I now know why it was already so familiar to me, and why I immediately thought of Schlaug’s work at Harvard and Beth Israel-it is because that’s precisely the team NPR is taking their data from! Brilliant.