The City of London Sinfonia gives two concerts at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall on 14 May (4pm and 7pm), exploring neurodivergent experiences, the ways we can learn to understand the strengths of neurodiverse people and accommodate their needs.


The concerts feature a new commission entitled Divergent Sounds, and are a collaboration between the orchestra and King’s College London, aided by a steering committee of neurodivergent people with an interest in collaborative and socially-engaged projects.

Ahead of the event, Jon Adams (pictured), one of the people involved in the project, reflects on the power of music to transcend boundaries between people who think differently.

It seems that alongside each unique language, every human culture has their music. I believe the same is true of neurodivergent cultures. Music not only transcends boundaries as a form of universal language but also transcends the barriers society places between people who think differently.

When we look for something to bring us all together as a human race, we often turn to music. Very often my words and way of being as Neurodivergent is misinterpreted, which causes me distress and forces me to mask my innate self, leading to mental health issues and the assumption that I am ‘broken’.

As an autistic person, my existence, experiences and personal narrative are often misread and misinterpreted by others who are not autistic. My need for acceptance becomes lost in dodgy translation.

Often, we are told that we have a ‘social communication deficit’ and the blame is placed fully at our feet – but surely this goes both ways? I do not have a clue what it’s like not to be autistic, and I suspect people who are not autistic don’t understand what I experience either. We view other’s experiences through the lens of our own, and this leads to assumptions that can ultimately be wrong and harmful.

It’s been shown that autistic-to-autistic communication can work just fine, but the issues come when it’s between autistic and non-autistic people. The need to share our experiences with each other and learn from that is vital.

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I believe music not only transcends the boundary and cross-cultural divide between the neurotypical and neurodivergent, but often within neurodivergent cultures too. It entices our emotions, make us feel we belong, and touches us deeply without the need for words or the need for often ‘underwhelming’ interpretation.

Music seems safe for us; it does not oppress or bully us nor judge our worthiness for existence. I am often situationally mute or lose words in the whirlwind my head often contains and can only communicate my thoughts, emotions and experiences through pictures, but they too require interpretation, leaving room for assumption and error.

Music does not carry this baggage or a fixed code and there is an openness that leaves room for individual interpretation. I feel music doesn’t discriminate. It enables me to unmask mentally, and it simply makes me feel human and share the experience without an explanation.


For more information about Sunday's concerts, and tickets, click here.


Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.