Featured on last night’s Inside Out progam was The Sound Learning Centre. The centre provides a range of light and sound therapies and I have been assessed and received light treatment from them.
In a ten minute segment, the program followed Harry Phillips and his mother Carrie as Harry received treatment for his aspergers syndrome. Harry, about ten years old, was a clever and articulate child but suffered from symptoms common in aspergers such as clumsiness, very fussy eating habits and sensitive hearing. Carrie commented that she couldn’t hoover when he was in the house because of the pain the noise caused him.
The Auditory Integration Training (AIT) was demonstrated to the TV show’s frontman by Pauline Allen who runs the cente and we were treated to a snatch of Fleetwood Mac (from the Rumours album I think) played through the equipment. The treatment works by dropping out certain frequencies and switching ears so it sounds like you are listening to a distant radio station on a hot summer night. The music fading and returning as the signals bounce and distort around the upper atmosphere.
Helen Woods, a highly autistic child, and her mother were also featured. They had received the treatment a year ago and Mrs Woods was delighted with it, commetting “after five days [of treatment] we were able to go in to cafe without Helen screaming, running around and knocking chairs over“. She also commented that Helen had started making more speech like sounds and could begin to communicate but Mrs Woods emphasized that this wasn’t a cure for autism.
The progam returned to Harry and his mother at the end of his AIT treatment. When Carrie was asked had the treatment worked “Absolutely” was the answer. The presenter asked how could be sure that this wasn’t just Harry progressing as he got older? Carrie’s response was the speed of the change is too quick. Harry had been using the hoover yet ten days ago the sound of the Hoover was painful to him. He also seemed more coordinated.
This was an extremely good feature on The Sound Learning Centre with very balanced BBC reporting. A relief after the distortions of ‘The Dyslexia Myth‘. It was a shame they did not feature the assessment stage of the treatment as it is extensive and would of made the process look more creditable. Overall the program did a good job demonstrating the speed and effectiveness of the treatment whilst highlighting the weakness of the science behind it.
The Sound Learning Centre is based in Palmer’s Green, north London, UK. They will be having an open house on the 20th October 2005.
See also: Hyperacusis, Light & Sound Sensitivity Effects Readers, The Senses of Autism,
BBC: Inside Out investigates how sound therapy may be helping some autistic children live with their condition
The Mozart Effect, a controversial piece of research that claimed that listening to Mozart could temporary raise spatial awareness (an important part of IQ), is once more under attack. Cognitive Daily has a write up of the latest research which found no evidence of the Mozart Effect.
The role of hearing is critical in dyslexia and other learning difficulties. Now a new study is looking at Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) in dyslexia. APD, previously known as Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), is characterised by problems with:
- Auditory Discrimination; the ability to distinguish between similar sounds or words
- Auditory Figure-Ground; the ability to distinguish relevant speech from background noise
- Auditory Memory, the ability to recall what was heard
Entitled Comorbid Auditory Processing Disorder in Developmental Dyslexia, the study used 11 dyslexic children with 14 non-dyslexic controls. Putting them through a series of trials, the researchers found that dyslexics did badly on the Frequency Pattern Test (FPT) and the Duration Pattern Test (DPT). In the FPT, the subject hears a pattern of three tones that are either “high” (1122 Hz) or “low” (880 Hz), e.g. High-High-Low or Low-High-Low. The subject then repeats the pattern back to the researcher. This tests many skills including detection of the change in tone and the subject’s memory. The DPT is similar but tests the ability to observe and remember the duration of sounds.
Why is this relevant to dyslexia? Imagine you can’t tell or remember the difference between different frequencies of sound. It fairly obvious that you would be bad at music as musical notes are just the same noise but at different frequencies. But why is reading and spelling effected? Have a look at this diagram:
The vertical axis is the decibels or volume and the horizontal axis is the frequency of the sound from 125hz to 8000hz. The grey area represents the range for normal speech with primary vowels, ‘a,e,i.o.u’, at one end and primary consonants, ‘s,d,f and so on, at the other end. If someone has problems detecting the difference between frequencies of sound then they have problems hearing the different sounds that make up words so many words sound similar. Normally we learn to read by parents or teachers reading out loud and pointing to the word. If lots of the words sound the same to a child then they cannot make a connection between the words on the page and the words being spoken.
The study concludes “Approximately half of the participants with developmental dyslexia showed clinically significant diminished performance on the FPT and DPT indicative of APD. These results indicate that the percentage of persons with developmental dyslexia and comorbid APD may be substantial enough to warrant serious clinical considerations“.
Also on Myomancy: Cocktail Party Deafness , Background Noise, Dysleixa and Earobics
Further Reading: Three Commonly Asked Questions About Central Auditory Processing Disorders [PDF], The Audiogram: Explanation and Significance
That what we see effects what we hear is clearly demonstrated in the McGurk effect (Hear My Voice, Read My Lips) and other experiments (see Integrated Senses). Dr. Deborah Zelinsky’s Mind-Eye Connection is a doctor of optometry and runs a treatment centre in Northfield, Illinois, USA that goes ‘beyond traditional vision care‘. There are no details of how the treatment works though Dr Zelinsky has two books available from the website but I can’t find them listed on Amazon. There is also a good list of links to vision related resources.
We all treat our senses as being distinct from each other, vision is different from hearing, smell is different from touch and so on. Only when talking about smell and taste do we expect some overlap in our senses. However this view of our senses appears not to be the case.
In a 2001 paper, Sensory modalities are not separate modalities: plasticity and interactions [PDF], the researchers review research in to this area. They highlight the effects sound can have on vision in the form of the McGurk effect (see Hear My Voice, Read My Lips) and other experiments. This includes a study that found that when trying to judge which of two lights came on first, sounds before or during the process made an impact on accuracy.
This work emphasizes the role sensory integration plays in our brain functions and reinforces treatment programmes that utilise a multi-sensory approach.
See Rhythm and Dyslexia and Sense Round-Up.
The EideNeurolearning blog reports on a study into Williams Syndrome (also called Williams-Beuren syndrome), a genetic disorder characterised by mental retardation coupled with an unusual facility with language and a love for music. Because of the nature of the syndrome it made a good study on sound sensitivity. Carers of people with Williams Syndrome where asked to complete questionnaires on what and how sounds effected them and these where compared to the answers given by people with Down Syndrom, autism and a normal control group.
True Hyperacusis: Lowered hearing thresholds
Odynocusis: Lowered auditory pain threshold
Auditory Allodynia: Aversion or fear of sounds not normally aversive
Auditory Attractions: Attractions to or fascinations with certain sounds
Normally sound sensitivity is referred to as Hyperacusis but this term is used to describe various behaviours. The study, ‘Aversion, Awareness, and Attraction: Investigating Claims of Hyperacusis in the Williams Syndrome Phenotype’ [PDF], found four different sound related behavior.
True Hyperacusis was only found in the people with Williams Syndrome and then only in 4.7% of the group. Odynacusis and Auditory Allodynia was found in 70%+ of the Williams Sydnrome group and around 30% in the autistic group compared with 2% of normal control group. Interestingly some of the behaviour exhibited by the people with Williams Syndrome is remarkably similar to obsessive behaviour seen with autism through with sounds rather than the more common tactile obsessions seen in autism: “… one young adult spontaneously said that he loved the sound of vacuum cleaners. His parents reported that he owned 18 vacuum cleaners …“. The negative reactions to some sounds were also reminiscent of autism: “One child in our study covered her ears and cried to her mother that the birds outside were ‘hollering’ at her. One 17-year-old girl reported extreme distress from the sound of a vacuum cleaner in another room, explaining that ‘the sound reverberates in my head.’“
At an approximately 30%+ incident rate, its obvious that sound sensitivity is significant in autism and sheds light on some autistic behaviour. See also The Senses of Autism and Hearing Things.
There is a strong link between sensitivity and educational problems. This is most apparent for children in the autistic spectrum where certain noises or being touched in particular places can generate extreme effects. (See The Senses of Autism, Background Noise, Dysleixa and Earobics, Cocktail Party Deafness, Visual Noise Hard for Dyslexics to Cope With).
This study, Dynamic sensory sensitivity and children’s word decoding skills, looked at ten year old children who had not been diagnosed as having any learning difficulties. They were trying to establish if better hearing and better visual skills were correlational to better spelling and reading. The found that “The results suggest that children’s sensitivity to both dynamic auditory and visual stimuli are related to their literacy skills. Importantly, after controlling for intelligence and overall reading ability, visual motion sensitivity explained independent variance in orthographic skill but not phonological ability, and auditory FM sensitivity covaried with phonological skill but not orthographic skill. These results support the hypothesis that sensitivity at detecting dynamic stimuli influences normal children’s reading skills. Vision and audition separately may affect the ability to extract orthographic and phonological information during reading.”
So how effective your sight and hearing are affects your ability to learn to read and spell. In people with learning difficulties it may be that they are oversensitive to some things and under-sensitive to others. This might prevent them hearing the difference between a ‘f’ sound and a ‘th’ sound or it may mean they cannot ignore the sound of other children talking. Either way, they are not getting the proper signals that normal child use when learning.
One of the researcher on this paper was Joel B. Talcott who also worked on the paper covered in Walk Like A Dyslexic. He also done work on visual skills of dyslexics: Visual motion sensitivity in dyslexia: evidence for temporal and energy integration.
Following on from The Senses of Autism, here is a round up useful links.
Sense-Think-Act has a range of articles about your senses and how to improve them.
As a medical or educational problem, there are a range of approaches and names to sensory problems in autism and as a problem in its own right. To quote from the web siteSensory Processing Disorder “Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a complex disorder of the brain that affects developing children and adults. People with SPD misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound, and movement. They may feel bombarded by information, they may seek out intense sensory experiences, or they may have other symptoms.”
The problem is also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction which Wikipedia defines as: “Sensory Integration Dysfunction is a neurological disorder causing some people to have difficulties in integrating information coming in from each of their five senses. Sensory integration disorders span a wide range of neurological conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia, pervasive developmental disorder, multiple sclerosis and speech delays, among many others“. A collection of articles on the subject.
On Amazon, The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz is highly regarded. The book also has a web site.
Sensory Resources offer a range of book and videos about sensory integration.
One of the defining aspects of autism is how autistic children react to different stimuli. Some children find being touched highly disturbing or particular noises may set off screaming fits. This article: Ideas on Autism: Building sensory communication with your child from PregnancyAndBaby.com explores how autistic child develop their own sensory preferences and how a parent can observe and use this information.
This hypersensitivity can evident in people with aspergers, dyslexics, ADHD and indeed normal people (see Hearing Things). It is sometimes known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction and sensory integration training has been an effective form of treatment. Such hypersensitivity might not be just limited to the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. In addition to proprioception, the awareness of where your limbs are) there are internal senses known as Interoceptors. These tell you how full your bladder is, if you are thirsty or how hot you are. Rather than five senses we may have twenty one or more. This is a relatively new area of research but when trying to understand an autistic child’s behavior its worth remembering that the way they sense the world around them and what inside them is unlikely to be the way you do.