Breakthroughs in Auditory Processing: Retraining the Auditory System through Music and Sound
The learning environment for the average student today is bursting with distracting, everyday noise. Overhead lights emit low buzzing sounds. Air conditioners, computers, traffic and construction noise, and voices in the cafeteria or gym classes bombard students’ brains and compete for their attention. Many of us take for granted that we can filter out or otherwise ignore these distractions but many are simply unable to accomplish this sort of noise filtering. Imagine what the world would be like if all that you perceived as ‘background’ noise was actually just as loud and just as commanding of your attention?
Sound has a profound effect on living systems. Because sound goes directly into the body, it has the ability to nourish or depress the system. The vagus nerve, which connects the ear to the brain, also connects the ear to nearly every organ in the body . Have you ever gone into a teenager’s room, and felt like the music rattled you from head to toe? It did! Literally, inside and out.
The environment today is brimming with noise. This seemingly continuous barrage of environmental noise is a constant source of stress in an already stress-filled society. Many studies have been done to understand the effect of noise on people and nature. In 1975, a study done by researcher Ariline Bronzaft found that children on the train track side of a New York public school lagged a year behind in learning to read when compared to their classmates on the other side of the building. Other studies have found the same learning difficulties for children living near airports.
Yet, the brain needs sound . A diet of healthy sound can have amazing effects on our learning, communication, emotions, relationships, sleep, coordination, creativity, organization and general sense of well-being.
How Does The Auditory System Work?
In order to think about and understand language, an auditory stimulus (sound) has to be received by the outer ear and channeled through the middle and inner ear to the auditory nerve. The ear’s job at this point is hearing.
Once the signal is transferred from the inner ear to the auditory nerve, it goes on a journey through the brainstem and the brain on its way to the cortex where language is processed. The Central Auditory Nervous System (CANS), where this journey takes place, is an intricate system dedicated to dealing with auditory information.
When the signal gets to an area of the brain called Heschl’s Gyrus the transition from auditory processing to language processing begins. It is at this point that the brain begins to process the auditory signal as language.
The final leg of the journey sends the language signals to the cortex where the information is coded, organized, interpreted, and understood.
A central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) occurs when the auditory signal is received accurately by the ear, but becomes distorted, confused, or compromised in some way before it is received by the language area of the brain.
Common Symptoms of Central Auditory Processing Disorder
In more clinical terms, here are some symptoms that most literature on CAPD include:
- About 75% are male
- Normal hearing acuity
- Difficulty following oral directions
- Inconsistent response to auditory stimuli (the signal isn’t always confused, just sometimes)
- Short attention span; fatigues easily during auditory tasks
- Poor long and short term memory
- May be looking at the speaker, but doesn’t appear to be listening
- Trouble listening when there is background noise
- Difficulty knowing where the sound is coming from
- Difficulty with phonics, reading, or spelling; mild speech-language problems
- Disruptive behaviors (distracted, impulsive, frustrated)
- Says “Huh?” or “What?” Often asks for things to be repeated
- History of ear infections
And even if there has been no professional diagnosis for a struggling child as yet, we both know that something doesn’t have to be an identified “disorder” for the issue to be a genuine challenge for the student.
It’s Hard to Get the Message When You Have A Bad Connection
Perhaps the best way to understand a central auditory processing disorder in our “modern age” is to think about what it is like to be in an important conversation with a bad cell phone connection. You are having to listen extremely hard, and any extra noise around you (i.e. kids, traffic, etc.) becomes extremely irritating and hard to block out.
Because the signal is not clear, you miss part of what the speaker is saying and you find yourself saying, “What did you say?” and struggling to fill-in the gaps.
You’re not exactly sure what the speaker said, but you don’t want to sound stupid or uninterested, so you make what you think is an appropriate response. Oops! That backfired. Now you have to explain about the bad connection and why you misinterpreted what they said and made an “off-the-wall” response.
You’re not quite understanding the speaker, yet when you have a clear connection, you really don’t have a comprehension problem.
It’s taking so much energy to keep up with this conversation, that you find your attention drifting. You’re feeling distracted and frustrated, and doggone it, important or not, you just want to get off the phone!
Luckily for cell phone users, the way to a better connection is to hang-up and dial again. But for students with CAPD, this is life.
Key Player on the Sensory Team
The auditory system is like the quarterback or the “captain” of the sensory team. It begins to function at 16 weeks in utero and has neuro-connections that allow the sensory team to work efficiently. When the auditory system is weak, it can affect the integration of information being fed to the brain and the nervous system by the other senses.
An inefficient auditory system can inhibit the development of strong listening skills. There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is passive. Listening is active and conscious and has a huge impact on learning . Inadequately developed listening skills can cause problems with information processing, attention, memory, concentration, relationships, motor coordination, language learning and communication.
The ear is tied-in to the vestibular system (balance and movement), so coordination, posture, and sensorimotor integration can be affected by a weak auditory system. Through improved listening, we see improved spatial awareness which supports organization; better body control for sitting in a chair and posture; improved eye-hand coordination for writing and improved motor coordination and performance in sports.
A well-functioning ear is like a battery which changes sound waves into electrical waves. These electrical waves stimulate the cortex (the thinking and learning part of the brain). Healthy sounds are nutrients that can stimulate the middle ear and charge the nervous system .
Because the auditory system has strong interconnections on multiple levels across both sides of the brain and throughout the body, it can impact how energized or de-energized we feel, how well we process information for learning, and how alert and organized we are.
Just as a healthy diet contributes to physical and mental health, a healthy sound environment makes healthier, more available learners.
What if you found a program for students that would result in:
- Better articulation
- Improved sleep
- Better ability to follow directions
- Improved auditory comprehension
- Improved vocal quality
- Better organization
- Improved social interaction
- Increased balance and coordination
- Improved language
- Increased attention
- Improved communication
- Reduced sound sensitivity
- Increased frustration tolerance
- Increased learning
Sounds like an Infomercial, doesn’t it? Would you buy?
Believe it or not, these are just a few of the results we are seeing from music and sound stimulation programs that we have added to our “therapy toolbox” over the last few years. Through the work of dedicated pioneers in the field, a whole new world of listening, communication, and success has been opened to our students.
Music and Sound Therapy
Over the years at the Learning Center, we have found that the use of music has been a tremendous tool for opening the door to learning and communication . For students that were shut-down to learning because of constant failure, music was an avenue to renew hope and interest. Our interest in music therapy as a gateway with emotionally-blocked students gradually led us to the use of music and sound stimulation to strengthen and re-train the auditory system for learning, communication, comprehension, and language.
The therapeutic use of music has long been scientifically supported. In the mid-1900s Dr. Alfred Tomatis began his work with the therapeutic application of sound to treat specific symptoms and behaviors.
Auditory stimulation and training has been effective in treating a variety of disorders, including auditory processing disorders, speech and language disorders, learning disabilities, autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders, and reading and spelling disorders.
The focus of auditory stimulation and training is on re-educating the ear and auditory pathways.
This is accomplished through the use of specially modified classical music and nature sounds CDs that stimulate the hearing mechanism to take in a full spectrum of sound frequencies. Because sound frequencies literally vibrate through our entire body, auditory re-training can result in positive changes physically, emotionally, and mentally.
As listening skills and the auditory system improve, many positive changes take place (take another look at the list on page one).
A Gentle, Powerful Therapy
Nourishing the auditory system with healthy sound through programs such as Samonas Sound Therapy, The Listening Program , and Advanced Brain Technologies’ Sound Health Series restores and supports the function of the auditory system.
We have found these to be tremendous tools in aiding the development of communication and learning with students of all ages with a variety of learning challenges; however, as one student pointed out, this “would be healthy for anyone, even if they didn’t have a problem.”
Our work with auditory stimulation and training has been exciting and inspiring. With these powerful tools, we are seeing dramatic changes occur in the lives of children, teens, and adults. This is by far the “gentlest” therapy we have ever prescribed, yet changes usually begin to be noticeable within two to three weeks and the impact has been unmistakable. One parent of a young teenager said, “If it wouldn’t embarrass my daughter to death, I’d call Oprah and tell her she needs to do a show on this!”