Autism Spectrum Disorders and Sound Therapy
Autism is a mystifying condition which causes children to become emotionally isolated from the world around them.
Asperger's syndrome is higher functioning autism, meaning the symptoms are milder and the child functions well or above average in many areas of life while still having certain abnormalities in their way of relating to others.
A definite cause of autism or Asperger's syndrome is not known, but a contributing factor is believed to be distortion in the reception of sensory information.
Shutting down the listening capacity
Many children with autism exhibit extreme sensitivity to noise. Some frequencies are actually painful for them to hear. Sound Therapy pioneer Dr Tomatis suggests that, in order to shut out painful sounds or other unwanted stimuli, the child closes down the hearing mechanism so that certain sounds cannot penetrate the consciousness.
On a physiological level, this closing off of the ear is achieved by a relaxation of the muscles of the middle ear. Over time, these muscles lose their tonicity. Sounds are then imprecisely perceived and, as a result, incorrectly analysed.
Dr Tomatis believes that the reluctance of autistic children to communicate results from the closing off of their being to auditory input. Although they may understand what is said to them, they have tuned out many of the frequencies in the sound and have thus tuned out the emotional content of the message.
More information about autism is available in the book "Why Aren't I Learning?" by Rafaele Joudry.
It is a great handbook for parents and teachers alike with drug-free treatments you can use at home or in the classroom to overcome behavioural difficulties such as autism spectrum disorders.
How Sound Therapy helps children with Autism
Sound Therapy is a home based program used during daily activities on a portable player. Children listen through earphones to specially filtered classical music, stories and poems which have been selected for their educational value. The filtering process, using a specialist device designed by Dr Tomatis (called the "Electronic Ear"), adds tonal changes and extra high frequency sounds to stimulate the entire auditory system.
Sound Therapy improves sensory integration by stimulating the cerebellum and the sensory cortices in the brain.
Learn more about how Sound Therapy stimulates the brain.
Reopening the listening capacity
Sound Therapy offers a child with autism the opportunity to re-open the listening capacity. The fluctuating sounds produced by the Electronic Ear gradually exercise and tone the ear muscles, teaching the ear to respond to and recognise the full range of frequencies. As this happens, communication takes on new meanings, and the child begins to respond where before he or she was unreachable.
Dr Tomatis discovered that because of the way the foetal ear develops, the first sounds heard in utero are high frequency sounds. The child hears not only the mother's heartbeat and visceral noises but also her voice. Re-awakening the child's ability to hear high frequencies re-creates this earliest auditory experience and enables emotional contact to be made with the mother first and then with others.
Correcting emotional response
Research shows that people with right speech-hearing preference have a better capacity to respond spontaneously and appropriately to emotional stimuli. Sound Therapy encourages this right ear dominance.
Badenhorst (1975) investigated the nature of auditory laterality, paying close attention to Tomatis' technique of observing the amount of mobility of facial muscles whilst speaking which provides a further indication of right or left speech-hearing preference.
Badenhorst found that the subjects with a right speech-hearing preference had a better capacity to relate appropriately to emotional stimuli and were more in control of their emotional responses, were more extroverted, and were less prone to anxiety, tension, frustration and aggression.
More recently, Nel (2005) completed a study to determine the effect of the Tomatis method on an adolescent boy with Asperger Disorder. She found that the Tomatis method "proved to be a successful form of treatment to enhance psychological well-being and interpersonal communication skills", while noting that further research with more participants and a control group is needed.
Badenhorst, F.H. (1975). n Rorschachstudie van regssydiges en linkslwsteraars met gemengde laterale voorkeure. Ongepubliseerde M.-graad-skripsie, Potchefstroom Universiteit vir CHO: Potchefstroom, cited in Van Jaarsveld, P.E. & du Plessis, W.F. (1988). Audio-psycho-phonology at Potchefstroom: a review. South African Journal of Psychology, 18, 136-143.
Nel, L. (2005). Asperger Disorder and the Tomatis Method: A Case-Study. Thesis (M.A. (Clinical Psychology)), North West University, Potchefstroom Campus. Available online.
What Sound Therapy has achieved with Autistic children:
- They show a greater interest in making contact and communicating with the people around them.
- Interactions with their family members have become more affectionate and appropriate.
- Increased eye contact and the children have a longer attention span.
- Initiate contact rather than waiting to be approached.
- For children without language, vocalisation has increased, initially as screams and then as babbling.
- Children who can speak may develop a more appropriate use of language, e.g. beginning to use more personal pronouns ("I", "you") or first names, and using words to express their feelings.
- They may begin to laugh and cry at appropriate times.
- Once children have begun to emerge from their emotional isolation they have shown increasing responsiveness to what they are being taught and to the people who care for them.
Which Sound Therapy International Program should I use?
Children can listen to Sound Therapy at home, at school, or even while sleeping.
Tips for using Sound Therapy for Autistic children
Both the music and the story albums are suitable for children with autism or Asperger's Syndrome. For children who can speak, the "Let's Recite" album in the Younger Children's Program and the Family Program is particularly beneficial, as it gives the child the opportunity to repeat what is said, encouraging participation and vocal expression of the new range of frequencies being heard.
Your child should be encouraged to listen to Sound Therapy for 30 - 60 minute each day. If it is possible for your child to listen for longer than this each day, that will be even more beneficial.
The Sound Therapy programs are preloaded on a small Mini MX2 player (it is not an MP3 player), which enables your child to continue moving around while listening. It comes with a lanyard that enables the player to be used hands free, without interfering with their daytime activities, including playing outdoors.
Some parents have found they have more success in getting children with autism to listen while sleeping. The music albums are most suitable for this, though many children enjoy choosing a story album to listen to as they drift off to sleep.
If your child is a restless sleeper, the earphones can be taped into the ear with micropore (surgical tape). Another option is to use an ipillow, which has stereo speakers inside the pillow. If using an ipillow, listen to determine which side of the pillow is louder - this will tell you where the right speaker is, and the pillow should be laid out so that the right speaker is on the right side of the head.
Learn more about how to use Sound Therapy.
- My pain is not as sharp and my sleep is less. The colours are beautiful. They stand out heaps and are richer and brighter. Reading - there are more gaps in between the letters. They stand out more now. This has helped a lot for me. Life is so much easier now. But of course I feel like a new person. The world has changed a lot.
- Larissa Amy
13 year old girl with ADD and higher functioning autism
- It has been almost 4 years now since you sent us your Sound Therapy kit (for my autistic son, Ramon Victorino.) Although we can hardly quantify the results brought about by this Sound Therapy, my son who is now 9 years old is beginning to read. Again, thank you so much.
- Felisa Mendiola
Want more information?
Want to learn more before trying Sound Therapy for your child?
The book Sound Therapy: Music to Recharge Your Brain details the history of Sound Therapy and how sound can be used to enhance auditory pathways and improve brain function.
Updated in late 2009, it includes the most recent updates on related research including neuroplasticity.
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