Sound Affects Everything

I love music.  I have played the piano since I was 4 years old.  I was too young for school but bored at home so my Mum decided to let me have piano lessons because a teacher used to come to our home and teach my siblings.

I ended up being the musical one in the family and made it my life career whereas none of them even play anymore.  I have perfect pitch.  At 3, when the piano tuner used to come to the house, I can remember sitting beside him and telling him when the sound was right or wrong. He ended up asking me every time he came to verify if what he was hearing was correct.  

When my second son was born, there were many challenges.  He was ill all the time, he seemed to be allergic to everything, he screamed constantly.  It was years of following my Muma gut instincts, going against doctors telling me he would grow out of it and researching everything I could get my hands on, before I found out he had auditory processing disorder.

The journey was not easy. There was no help. I was told that the “grad 2 net would pick up any problems,” or “Don’t worry, there are lots of other children doing worse than he is”. He went into grade 1 with 3 sight words and came out with the same 3 sight words and I knew he was struggling. I didn’t care how others were doing, MY son was struggling and no-one, no matter who I turned to, seemed interested in helping.

I went through and trained in floor programs, working with sensory issues and primitive reflexes. It helped but was time consuming and needed a lot of equipment. It would take us about 40 mins twice a day and after a year we were kind of over it.

Then I came across Alfred Tomatis and his work and Advanced Brain Technologies. I learned everything I could about auditory processing and how to change it.

I had no idea what that was.  I was reading a book that explained it and it was like they were describing my child in detail.  That was the start of a very long career in sound therapy.  I have learned a lot over the years and I am still learning but I am always amazed at what a huge role our auditory system plays in everything we do.

We know we have ears.  We know we can hear (unless we are hearing impaired) but we really have no idea what role that plays in us learning to sit up, develop muscle, organize ourselves in time, cut with scissors, brush out teeth, learning to speak.  The list is endless.

Tomatis was a French Otolaryngologist (ear, nose and thoat specialist) who was born in 1920.  His life’s work is the basis for all sound therapy now and his research was ground breaking.  He discovered that we don’t hear with our ears.  We actually hear with our brains, but it uses 2 inputs:

  • Our ears
  • Our skeletal system

We can all understand sound coming through our ears (air conduction) but did you know that our whole bodies vibrate with sound and feed information to our brains too? (bone conduction).  Think about Beethoven the composer.  He was deaf, yet he would sit with his head lying on the top of the piano as he played and feel the vibrations.  Have you ever seen a hearing challenged child move in time to music?  They feel the vibrations through the floor.

Have you ever wondered why your voice sounds so weird when it is recorded and you play it back?  When we hear ourselves speak, the sound resonates through our skeletal system (bone conduction) and we can also hear the words we hear with our ears (air conduction).  When we record it and play it back, we are primarily listening with air conduction so we miss an important source of sound input.  So as a result it sounds different.

They have now discovered that we also use the soft tissue of our bodies as a third input for the brain as sound resonates (soft tissues conduction).

Tomatis used to say “our whole body is a giant ear.”  In the sense that our whole body is a vehicle for the auditory system to translate information, he was right.

Does it not make sense then that lack of auditory stimulation leaves deficits in things to do with the body.

Tips for Educators

  • Auditory stimulation is essential for learning anything, even things we don’t associate with the auditory sense like muscle tone, organizing our bodies in time and what we eat.
  • Children are far more sensitive and still developing filters so sounds should not be too loud.
  • If a child is putting their hands over their ears, it is because the brain will always protect itself.  Even if a sound is not uncomfortable for you, it is for them so remove them or turn the sound down.
  • Because the whole body processes sound, children can become tired in loud auditory environments.
  • If a child appears not to hear you all the time, it can be that they can hear fine but are not able to process the sound correctly.
  • Loud sounds for prolonged periods will damage hair cells in the ears.  While you won’t notice it right away, as you get older you will find gaps in your ability to hear certain frequencies.
  • Speaking in a room where there is noise to a child with auditory processing difficulties is difficult for them to process your voice over the others. Stand close, touch their shoulder and make eye contact if you want them to follow an instruction
  • If processing is not working normally, then a child’s brain will be working overtime to try and make sense of what you have said. Allow them time to respond as it will take them longer.

Diana Cameron

Diana has over 32 years in the early childhood industry and has been a guest lecturer and workshop facilitator both nationally and internationally for the past 20 years. She has a passion for inspiring educators to use creativity and imagination in their teaching.

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