Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A new way of seeing through music

PANAMA CITY — Paul McAuliffe is one cool cat, as he recently demonstrated while serenading a Florida panther, Takoda, at the Bear Creek Feline Center outside Panama City.
“People with autism spectrum disorder have a real affinity for animals,” Paul said.

Known across the Southeast as a talented flute player and flute maker, Paul is also an autism advocate and social services worker. Three years ago, at age 54, Paul discovered that he had Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism spectrum disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction.

“We have a real hard time reading social cues (or) looking people in the eye,” he said. However, he said the deficit can be compensated for: “It’s like learning to play the flute: the more you practice, the better you get at it.”

Paul has presented his “Flutes, Autism & A Different Way of Seeing” program across a seven-state area. He recently gave presentations in Greenville, S.C., and Valdosta, Ga. He’ll next present at Hattiesburg, Miss., and on Feb. 17 he’ll present to the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

Click for a link to download Paul McAuliffe's new CD

“Not too shabby for an old flute boy,” he said. “It’s a unique program that I seemed to have stumbled upon. I discuss my own journey of self-discovery mixed with information about Asperger’s and autism in general, interspersed with flutes (from various different regions across the globe).”

During the summer of 2011, the NPR affiliate in Tampa did an online article and interview about Paul’s musical autism advocacy program that went viral. It was picked up by the blog of Autism Speaks, among other organizations. CNN featured Paul on a “Health Minute” segment Dec. 1, after one of the cable news channel’s editors saw his presentation in Atlanta. The segment was shot in Maryville, Tenn., and was shown on CNN and local news channels all over the country.

“I’ve received reports of people seeing it as far away as NYC, Columbus, Ohio, and Little Rock, Ark.,” he said. “I’ve been joking with friends: ‘I can’t get arrested in Panama City — but they love (me) in Atlanta.’ ”

As Paul pointed out, Bay County gets into the national consciousness for many reasons — many of them not so nice — so it’s a good thing for a local to get positive national publicity. (Check out The News Herald’s list of Top 10 stories of the year for examples, including the BK Brawler and the School Board shooting, among others.)

“Behavioral scientists say 50 to 80 percent of all human communication is non-verbal,” Paul said. “The good news is we can learn these things. … Now that I have more of an idea what’s going on out there, it has made it easier to communicate.”

His new CD, “Young Cat Dreams: Quiet Time Music for Kids of all Ages,” is more than an hour of original, soothing solo ethnic flute music. Paul plays 11 different wooden and bamboo flutes on the album, three of which he crafted himself. It’s available for sale at the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida in Panama City, and Coastal Market at Pier Park in Panama City Beach; it also available as a digital download at

“I’m very excited about it,” he said. “We live in such a high-stress, high-stimulus society, and 21st century kids have so much stimulus coming at them all the time. I like to do anything I can to help people slow down and relax.”

Paul’s music reflects his peaceful attitude. He describes it as music for lullabies, general quiet time, meditation or “just to help relieve the stress of the day.” He has been told many times that when children or grandchildren are having difficulty sleeping, his flutes are the only thing that will help them “relax enough to drift off to Dreamland.”

“They said, ‘You should bottle and sell that,’ ” he said.


(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 4, 2012.)
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