Integrated Listening Programs
Integrated Listening Programs are a Tomatis-based sound therapy that trains the ear, brain and auditory pathways to better process sensory input and function more efficiently. Results can range from subtle to life-changing, and can include:
- Increased focus and concentration
- More ease with communication
- Decreased pain
- Improved auditory processing
- Enhanced language capability
- Expanded creativity
- Improved memory
- Enhanced sports performance
- Greater musical ability
- Greater range of voice quality and singing
- Enhanced balance and coordination
- Increased self-confidence
- Greater ease socially and interpersonally
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Elevated mood and enhanced level of energy
- Improved reading and comprehension
- Improved organizational skills
- Diminished sound sensitivities / more ease, less distraction in noisy environments
Integrated Listening Programs are effective, noninvasive, enjoyable and are a drug-free alternative for improving attention, concentration, and positive energy and emotional states!
If you are an adult dealing with issues of language, mood, or attention (or even wanting to improve your ear for singing or listening) or are the parent of a child struggling with learning or developmental delays, Integrated Listening Programs can help. Integrated Listening means use of Tomatis-based sound therapy along with certain movement exercises and vocal training that we teach during the Listening program sessions.
Who Can Benefit:
Therapeutic Listening Programs have been shown to enhance functioning for a number of conditions, including:
- Attention difficulties
- Auditory processing difficulties
- Sensory processing difficulties
- Autistic spectrum disorders
- Learning difficulties
- Fine and gross motor difficulties
- Post-head injury problems
- Depression, low energy
- Chronic Pain
- Enhancement of motor skills for athletes
Science– How Listening Programs Work
Looking at the ear physiologically, with its direct connection to the brain and nervous system , it is easy to see how important it is to our learning, language, emotions, physical movement, and overall health. The vestibular and cochlear systems, located in the inner ear, act as a relay station for sensory input to the brain. They manage our ability to integrate our senses, and play a key role in the development of new neural pathways for language development and processing. Additionally, the cochlear/vestibular systems serve as a “battery” to the brain, a natural transducer: sound waves entering the outer ear are transformed into electrical impulses in the inner ear and sent to the brain; those impulses provide energy to the brain and influence our ability to focus and sustain attention. (Brain scans show, for example, that children with AD/HD lack ‘energy’ in key parts of the brain for attention and focus.)
Integrated Listening Programs are based on the research and practice of Dr. Alfred Tomatis , the brilliant French doctor and pioneer of auditory/vestibular stimulation. Primarily using the music of Mozart, Therapeutic Listening modifies sound according to the precepts of Dr. Tomatis—adding, subtracting and enhancing selected frequencies while modulating the music between high and low channels.
Dr. Tomatis’ work has been further refined and brought to a new level of technological sophistication by the work of Dr. Ron Minson, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist who co-founded Dynamic Listening Systems, Denver, CO, with whom I have been trained in providing Listening Programs for our clients. Dr. Minson is now an international presenter and the professional trainer for Integrated Listening Systems.
Dr. Tomatis was the first to recognize the cybernetic, or feedback loop, relationship between the ear and the voice. This discovery came to be called the Tomatis Effect: the voice only contains that which the ear can hear . His research of over 45 years also resulted in the following insights, many of which are only now gaining recognition in the medical field:
- The ear is a transducer which converts sound into electrical impulses which not only energize the brain but stimulate the vestibular system to influence our movement, coordination, and muscle tone
- Sound is a nutrient for the brain, much like oxygen and glucose
- Hearing is passive and physiological, while listening is active and psychological; listening involves the ability to tune out distractions and to focus at will
- The ability to listen affects one’s language, learning, emotional health, coordination, and creativity
- Listening begins prior to birth; Tomatis was the first to discover that by 4-5 months of intra-uterine life a child can listen to the mother’s voice
Sound Frequencies and Learning
In his research, Tomatis learned that different languages use different sets of frequencies. For example, the frequencies used in British English mostly fall between 2,000 and 12,000 Hz. The French language mainly uses frequencies between 1,000 and 2,000 Hz. This is one reason why some foreign languages are so difficult for certain people to learn. How can you learn something you can’t really hear? (Or, correctly decode a sound which you did hear; this is very much what it is like to have a learning disability.) However, Tomatis’ research showed that our ears can become accustomed to foreign frequencies through training. This is why in Europe, where foreign language study is required, there are Tomatis-based centers in towns of just 40-50,000 people.
Listening programs increase your language capacity through improved capacity to hear and decode what you are hearing. Integrated listening programs are designed to retrain frequencies that your ear may be weak in processing.
Based partly on the theory that those who can hear more of the auditory spectrum have an advantage in learning, Tomatis developed his method of “filtering.” By filtering, or letting only certain frequencies of sound through, Tomatis found he could selectively train those parts of the auditory spectrum where his clients’ were having trouble processing sound. Even though the equipment he used was relatively simple compared to the equipment used today, he found filtering to be highly effective. Not only did his clients’ learning ability improve but they also had improved energy levels. This observation led him to discover that higher frequencies tend to have an energizing effect on the central nervous system.
Integrated listening programs are designed to filter frequencies in such a fashion as to strengthen the areas you most need to improve processing of the auditory spectrum.
Gating is one of Tomatis’ most innovative techniques, and is particularly relevant today in terms of improving concentration ability. Tomatis realized that he was able to improve his clients’ hearing ability by strengthening the muscles of the inner ear, known to be responsible for “tuning out” unwanted sounds. Gating entails separating music into 2 channels and alternating (or “gating”) them, with one channel boosting high frequencies and the other channel boosting low frequencies as the music gets louder or softer. This causes the muscles in the middle ear to continuously tighten and relax, a process that strengthens them. As the muscles become stronger so does our ability for focused listening.
Integrated listening programs make use of this gating function; the impact is like doing internal ear aerobics!
Air and Bone Conduction
Most of us are not aware of it, but we hear sounds in 2 ways – through air conduction and bone conduction. The odd sensation of hearing our own voice on audio tape and not recognizing it is because on the tape we only hear the air conducted sound of our voice. When we speak we hear our voice through both bone and air conduction. (This is why when we go to an audiologist to have our hearing checked, a vibrator is placed on the mastoid bone right behind the ear to test our bone conduction response.) Tomatis developed ways to use bone-conducted sound to help people with listening problems.
Integrated listening programs use equipment that provides both air and bone conduction in the auditory retraining process.
The vestibular/cochlear systems, housed in the inner ear, play a crucial role in our ability to analyze sounds, integrate our senses, and maintain our balance and posture. Dr. Jean Ayers, the pioneer of sensory integration, pointed out in Sensory Integration and the Child that poor sensory integration could lead to both hyperactivity and poor attention:
“A well-modulated vestibular activity is very important for maintaining a calm, alert state….The vestibular system also helps keep the level of arousal of the nervous system balanced. An under-active vestibular system contributes to hyperactivity and distractibility because of its modulating influence.”
The Integrated Listening program uses specific gating, filtering and bone conduction techniques to stimulate the vestibular system, strengthen muscles within the ear responsible for filtering out unwanted noise, and improve our ability to discriminate and process sounds.
Audio/Vocal training is incorporated into the latter part of the Integrated Listening program, once the auditory foundation is in place to train our speaking voices. The training involves reading aloud or hearing vocalizations and repeating phrases into a microphone, and then listening to the play-back. This develops the auditory/vocal feedback loop: Is what I am saying matching what I intended to say? Am I speaking clearly?
A rich speaking voice has the natural effect of continually energizing and stimulating the brain. The audio/vocal training is also used as a means of making those who are left-ear dominant strengthen their right ear listening capability. (see below for an explanation of ear dominance)
The “Leading Ear” and Learning Ability
Dr. Tomatis also found we have a dominant, or leading, ear much like we have a dominant hand or eye. Studies have shown that those with a dominant right ear are better learners than those who are left-ear dominant. Here’s a likely reason why: Language is processed in the left hemisphere of the brain. The right ear is directly connected to the “left brain,” the left ear is connected to the “right brain.” A dominant right ear has the quicker, more direct path to the language side of the brain. If you listen with your left ear, the sounds first go to the right brain before being routed to the left brain via the corpus callosum. With the longer pathway, the information is delayed and important information – e.g. high-pitch frequencies that are essential for discriminating closely related sounds such as “S” and “T” – might also be confused.
The Integrated Listening program addresses this situation in the vocal/audio training by gradually shifting more and more of the sound to the right ear. These exercises over a period of time establish a better vocal/audio control under the lead of the right ear. While not everyone with a left dominant ear has difficulty with communication, for children with learning difficulties and for adults with communication problems it can be a significant handicap. Training the right ear to be more dominant improves efficiency of language processing.
How does sound affect our brain and nervous system?
The vestibular and cochlear systems are 2 of our 3 main systems for organizing sensory input (vision being the third). They extend from the ear to the base of the brain, where they act as a relay station for sensory input to the cerebral cortex (home of higher order processes such as thought, language, reading, etc.). Together they form an interdependent system which allows us to detect and analyze sound, control balance and movement (including eye movement), and integrate our touch, hearing, and vision.
The Integrated Listening programs specifically-altered sound frequencies stimulate the cochlea and the vestibule of the inner ear. Fluid inside the cochlea vibrates according to the frequency of sound received. These vibrations generate nerve signals which are sent to the brain. Often, in the case of learning or attention difficulties, the vestibular/cochlear system is one of the sources of the problem as it is unable to process, organize and manage the thousands of pieces of sound information coming from the environment.
How are alertness, focus and energy affected by Listening Programs?
Research has shown that if we deprive ourselves of sensory stimuli we are unable to function effectively. A majority of our sensory stimulation is received via the vestibular/cochlear system. If that system is hindered, the results can be seen in our brain’s ability to function well. Auditory and vestibular stimulation is, literally speaking, nutrition for the brain.
One of Dr. Tomatis’ core findings was that high frequency sounds are energizing while low frequency sounds tend to have the opposite effect. On an anatomical level, the feeling of alertness resulting from a “healthy ear” occurs when sensory input coming through the vestibular-cochlear system is channeled to a system at the base of the brain known as the ascending reticular activating system ( ARAS). From the ARAS, the stimuli are relayed to the cerebral cortex. With good auditory and vestibular input, the ARAS stimulates much of the cortex, having a profound effect on levels of “consciousness” and on one’s sense of feeling sharp versus hazy.
A Discriminating Ear
Sound enters our ear as a myriad of frequencies and intensities. The cochlea, within the inner ear, is in charge of discerning the various frequencies. If the cochlea isn’t doing its job well, we have a hard time telling the difference between a “T” and a “D”, or a “B” and a “P”. This difficulty is often found in dyslexics, who are unable to hear a sound properly and therefore cannot write or read it properly, and in those with auditory processing delay, who process language at a slower rate than those with a well-functioning auditory system. The result is a tendency to “tune out.” One gets tired of trying to catch up, tired of seeming “slow” to others, and tired of not being able to stay with the conversation in a group.
We read with our ears. As your eyes see a letter, your ears identify the corresponding sound. So, as your eyes move from letter to letter your ear (cochlea) translates each letter into a sound. Reading requires the ears and eyes to work together synchronously. The vestibular system coordinates the eye movements and increases the synchronicity of the eyes and ears. Ideally, both operations should happen almost simultaneously. The trouble starts when the delay is too long and prevents the synchronization of the eyes and ears.
Integrated Listening Programs are successful in helping those with learning, speech & language, and motor planning difficulties because we re-train the way the ear listens. The process of gating helps to strengthen the muscles of the middle ear. Specifically, these are the tensor tympani and stapedius muscles which control the function of the small bones within the cochlea. These muscles are responsible for transmitting sound from the eardrum to the cochlea, allowing for better auditory discrimination. The expressive phase of the Listening program helps make the right ear more dominant and increases the synchronicity of the eyes and ears.
Stress & Emotional Balance
An important part of our autonomic nervous system is the parasympathetic system, which controls our ability to conserve or restore energy. Typical responses of this system include a decrease in the heart rate and force of the heartbeat, which lowers our blood pressure and activates our digestive system. A cranial nerve known as the vagus nerve transmits sensory information from the ear to the parasympathetic system. By stimulating the vagus nerve through sound, the Listening program is able to decrease stressful reactions. Like other effects caused by repetitive auditory stimulation, clients report those positive changes to be permanent.
Note: Some of the above text was drawn, with the author’s permission, from Pierre Sollier’s new book, Listening For Wellness. We heartily recommend this book to those who seek more information on the methods developed by Dr. Alfred Tomatis.
Identifying Auditory-Related Problems
Listening Programs work on a variety of Levels:
At the level of receptive oral language, the following can be considered symptomatic of a listening problem:
- A need to have instructions repeated
- Distractibility, restlessness, daydreaming, poor attention and concentration in learning situations
- A tendency to misinterpret what is being said, which produces odd reactions and impedes communication with others
- Difficulty with following and/or participating in conversations in a noisy environment
At the level of body awareness or body image, the following can be observed:
- Poor balance or coordination
- Difficulty coordinating body movement
- Clumsiness or awkwardness in body movement
- Excessive body movement when speaking or listening (fidgety)
- Poor posture: overly tense and rigid (hyper tonic) or insufficient tonicity (hypo tonic)
- Mixed lateral dominance, letter and word reversals, signs of fine or gross motor coordination difficulties such as poor handwriting
- Poor organization and planning skills
- The tendency to withdraw or avoid communication in learning situations and/or social situations
- A lack of curiosity or interest in learning
At the level of spoken language, individuals with listening-based communication problems are frequently seen to have very poor audio-vocal control or self-listening. Such symptoms include:
- Lack of interest in oral communication and, in extreme instances, avoidance or active refusal to use language as the medium through which to communicate with others
- Slow, hesitant, poorly articulated speech
- A poorly modulated voice (too soft or too loud)
- A poor voice, characterized by a flat, monotonous tone, and lacking modulation and fluency
- For adults, difficulty in sustaining the interest of a group while making a speech or presentation
In compiling clinical histories at listening centers using Tomatis-based methods, the following events have had an unusually high incidence among individuals with listening-based learning and communication problems:
- Difficult circumstances surrounding birth
- Difficult birth or early separation from the mother as a result of illness or adoption
- Recurring ear infections in the first years of life
- The arrival of a younger sibling within two years of birth
- Slow or poorly established preference for right or left hand
- Delay in language development and, less frequently, in motor development
- Difficult adjustment to school life and the recognition of problems by the teacher or by the parent within the first two years of school
- Underachievement at school or on the job
In 1999, a meta-analysis examining 5 studies* of auditory stimulation remediation (all of which are, like DLS, based on the methods of Dr. Alfred Tomatis) was published. The analysis, involving a total of 231 children, concluded that the remediation significantly improves linguistic skills, psychomotor skills, personal and social adjustment skills, auditory skills, and cognitive skills.
Another study on auditory stimulation was done at the Tomatis Center in Toronto, Canada with over 400 children and adolescents.* The subjects all had well-documented histories of learning problems, as well as a pattern of under-achievement on psycho-educational tests. In this test, 95% of the parents responded that the program had helped their children. Improvement occurred in the following areas:
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*For details on this and other research see: