Stories - Dyslexia
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Below you will find a series of true stories of some of our clients.

Steve's story

Listening Therapy for our Son

Steve's story

Steve is an energetic seven-year old who absolutely refused to learn to read. Words terrified him. His reading skills were at pre-kindergarten level. He reversed right and left. He didn't like to sit in class. His impulsive behavior distracted the class more than once. His lack of attention led to a severe discrepancy between his intellectual potential and his classroom performance. He was brought to one of the Tomatis Centers by his parents who were desperate to find a solution. Yet they were skeptical about what this Tomatis Center could offer.

One thing was immediately clear: Steve's perception of sounds was so distorted that he couldn't discriminate between them clearly. He was living in a permanent state of confusion, trying to make sense of messages he could not fully perceive. Imagine how it would be to read a book from which every second word would be missing. We would quickly give up. Words in a book are like a collection of sounds that the ear needs to hear to understand. If the sounds are not perceived correctly, it becomes especially difficult to master reading and writing, as well as learning in general. Since Steve could not listen well, he could not learn well either. That is why Steve's Educational Report stated that "he is not able to associate sounds with symbols."

Steve was also somewhat clumsy. We were not surprised. Many children that come to Tomatis Centers show some delay in motor skills development. Quite often these problems are subtle and many children have learned to compensate for them. In some children they are more pronounced. These children may have a hard time riding a bike or catching a ball. Here again the ear is involved. The vestibular system controls body posture, balance and coordination. It also plays an important role in developing a sense of rhythm, differentiating between left and right and in developing a sense for space and time. An imbalance in the vestibular system may thus explain why Steve could not sit still in a classroom, was easily distracted, paid little attention and didn't listen well. Steve showed indeed some of the classical symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder.

We explained to Steve that he wasn't stupid at all. His problem was not a learning but a listening problem. While his hearing was OK, he couldn't listen well. This may at first sound surprising, but we all know that we can look without seeing. Likewise we can hear without listening. To listen, one has to focus on sounds. Because Steve was not able to focus well, he could not listen and thus not learn well. However hard he tried, he failed. After a while he got so discouraged that he had given up.

The Tomatis Center could definitely help Steve. He would have to come to the Center for a few weeks of Listening Therapy. During the sessions he would wear a special headphone and listen to music and sounds processed by an "Electronic Ear," a device invented and patented by Dr. Tomatis. Steve would not have to pay attention to the music, nor sit still. He would be able to move around and play with other children following their own program. We told him that upfront, because many children cannot sit still for a long time. Also we didn't want to make Steve feel that he would be in a school setting, which he dreaded. Later on in the program he would do some fun exercises, using a microphone.

We told Steve's mother that she would receive a Listening Program of her own. This would make her feel more relaxed and more energized. Her presence would also make Steve feel supported as he went through the program.

We finally explained that once Steve would start to listen better, his behavior would gradually change. During this transition period we would work closely with her and the rest of the family to maximize the effect of the Listening Therapy and make the improvements permanent. We predicted that the behavior would change first, and that school results would start to improve later on.

A week later Steve started the program. It took him a few days to get used to coming to the Tomatis Center, six days a week for his two hour sessions. At first he was somewhat impatient. After a few days, his mother reported that he had taken the training wheels off his bike and was riding it easily with no balance problems anymore. He soon started to calm down. His behavior improved markedly. He became more pleasant to be around with, and his relationship with the other family members got easier. He still didn't want to read, but was willing to take more chances. Those were encouraging signs showing that we were going in the right direction.

After 15 days of Listening Therapy, Steve and his mother took a one month break. When they returned, Steve's mother reported that his behavior had been excellent. "It is like day and night," she said. Steve appeared more composed and more cooperative. He still had some outbreaks of impatience but they were short-lived. We felt that Steve could now start with the second block of ten days of Listening Therapy. Steve would also start with the exercises we discussed during the first visit. This is an important step, during which we train the right ear to become the leading ear. This helps to process the information that reaches his ears faster. Steve, like most children with learning problems, was left-ear dominant. Therefore, Steve could not process the information fast enough.

During these exercises, the children speak into a microphone connected to the Electronic Ear, where their voice is processed and returned to their right ear. This makes them listen to themselves, and trains them to control the timber of their voice and the rhythm and flow of their speech.

This is a delicate phase of the program. For some children it is difficult to read into a microphone, to repeat words, or to listen to themselves. They may associate "taking in the words" with growing up, with becoming more responsible and more independent. It is a frightening perspective for some of them. As a little girl told us angrily when asked to do an exercise: "I don't want to talk into the microphone! I don't want to grow up anyway!" The link between learning and growing up was very clear to her. She felt this as a threat that she could only ward off by refusing to cooperate. By doing these exercises, children learn to control their voice, check the accuracy of the words they pronounce, and develop their listening skills. As they become more proficient, their confidence and self-esteem builds. Learning can now become an enjoyable challenge.

Steve was not as resistant as the little girl, but was still reluctant. We therefore tailored the program to help him overcome his anxieties. Gradually he relaxed and started to confront his fears. When he came back two months later for the third and last phase of the program, Steve's mother reported that his spelling had improved and that he could now recognize words. He had also started reading. His writing was more legible and faster. He would no longer wait until the last moment to do his homework. Instead, he started it at school. Finally, to the relief of the whole family, Steve was becoming more independent.

Several months later, his mother called to report that Steve was maintaining his gains and was even improving further. His reading had improved significantly and he was quieter and happier. Also, his motor skills had improved tremendously. "He is a different kid," she said. "Tomatis made all the difference."

Listening Therapy for our Son

by Jim and Harl Asaff

We are the parents of a Great Kid! Without formal training, you would have known that our thirteen-year old was bright, verbal, at ease with people, and very humorous (an essential element for anyone involved with the maze of learning disabilities). Our son expressed himself eloquently in words but not in writing. He is dysgraphic. The frustration he experienced in dealing with the school system was extreme.

Since our son was five years old, we have followed the "normal" channel open to the LD child, with the exception of drugs. When we were directed to the Tomatis Centers by a close friend, we found a network of over 200 centers world-wide, but with little representation in the States. We chose to go to the Toronto Listening Centre under the direction of Paul Madaule.

Essentially, the Tomatis Method is a sound stimulation program that involves a number of hours spent daily listening through headsets to Mozart, and for children, the mother's voice. There are various filters applied to the sound through a device called the Electronic Ear, but I will leave it to others better qualified to explain the method more fully. As parents, we were more interested in the results.

To our surprise, we began to see changes within three days of beginning the listening program, although all clients did not respond this quickly. Our son first developed a sense of direction which freed him from the constant fear of being lost. He kept asking us about childhood incidents that he previously could not recall. He began to tell time and to understand it. He began to play more freely, less guarded with other children. He was more affectionate and less "13". There were fewer flashes of frustration and anger. After seven days, we asked him to read aloud, previously a degrading experience and a terrible burden to him. To our surprise his pronunciation and word punctuation had improved. He began to laugh instead of cry when things were too hard. In a production of Shakespeare, he laughed at all the right jokes, all three acts!

During the summer he noticed his attention span for small tasks lengthening. He found himself amazed at the focus he could maintain, even for lists of spelling words. He noticed his body position in space--his coordination was improving. Always an agile and sport-minded child, he just got better and better.

When school started, he remembered his assignments, brought the right books home, was less disruptive. We got "good" comments from some of his teachers. Most importantly, he began to write. We have even seen some attempts at cursive writing (LD children usually revert to printing by the 6th grade).

Four months after the last session in Canada, we went to Monterey, Mexico, for a listening boost. We were excited about the continuing improvement in the listening test. But the most impressive results to us were the lack of frustration and the emergence of joy in our son's life.

It has been a year since our first intensive therapy session, and our enthusiasm for the work has not diminished. Our son completed his own homework assignments throughout the school year with less tutoring. The fluency of his written work is beginning to match the fluency of his spoken word. The frustration he lived with every day has disappeared, and we lived through finals. His self-esteem is so improved that he has less need to be right. He has chosen more stable friends, and peer pressure is much less important. Mainly, he is so happy. He is free with hugs and expressions of support. He even volunteered to read to the kindergarten at the end of the year. With his new-found patience, he is volunteering to work with LD children a few hours a week. He was accepted in a college-sponsored Talented and Gifted (TAG) program, and enjoys being thought of as a gifted student.

As wonderful as things are, nothing is perfect. One day before spring break went terribly wrong. Our son forgot his books, assignments and instructions. Too late to do anything about it, we said nothing and hoped for the best. Our son was scared something had gone terribly wrong. It hadn't. It was just a bad day. When we came home the next day, he said he never wanted that to happen again. He had forgotten how awful every day of his life had been before the listening therapy.

Our son asked us to take him to the Listening Center for one week per year of listening boosts for the rest of his life. We pointed out that this was not necessary since he had finished the program. His reply was "I can't take a chance of losing this." He also said he would take his children whether they needed it or not.

Learning disabilities affect everyone. Twenty-five percent of the US population is learning disabled to some degree. Our prison populations are over 90% learning disabled. The need of our family are minimal compared to some I have seen, but we have learned that it is essential to maintain an open mind when dealing with this subject. Otherwise, the experts' answers will leave you with a feeling of fear and hopelessness. With so much of your energy focused on the needs of an LD child, you cannot afford this. Never give up the belief that there is help available and always remember that you are not alone.

This article first appeared in "Open Ear," in their Fall 1991 issue, and was reproduced with the permission of the authors, Jim and Harl Asaff. Their experience with the Tomatis Method led them to open the Listening Centre in Dallas, Texas, to apply the Tomatis Method and serve the needs of children and adults in their community. They also created FRANKLY SPEAKING, a successful communication game.


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