I’m not sure exactly when I first learned of Listening therapy or Therapeutic Listening (the form we did in the documentary), but I know I came across it when researching Sensory Integration Therapy as well as the method explained in the book The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doige, M.D.
Sensory Integration Therapy deals with sensory overload and trys to reset the bar over time for tolerance levels. Therapeutic Listening and Astronaut Training on the other hand deals more with how the brain receives the inputs. More specifically how the brain can be stimulated by using sound or vestibular receptors to engage certain parts of the brain. And not just the parts related specifically to speech or language, but those that deal with parts of the subcortical portion of the brain. Ok, so what does this all mean? Well according to Dr. Doige’s book the subcortical parts can interact with the cortex (the main higher thinking part of our brain). When the subcortical part is stimulated, say with sound, then there have been “astonishing improvements in the ‘higher’ mental capacities of children with the common psychiatric disorders of childhood”. *
This area of therapy that stimulates the brain in order to perhaps wake parts up or create new neuro pathways were the reasons for our family to investigate alternative therapies for Oskar. For whatever reasons, Oskar has grown, but not met his “milestones” the same way as Izzy or to the extent that Izzy has. In the documentary you may have heard Elizabeth, our OT (Occupational Therapist), talking about “body mapping”. The play that infants do, that we all take for granted, isn’t done in vain, it has purpose. Exploring the different parts of their bodies, from their hands down to their toes, creates body awareness that will be built upon as they grow. This will be important during the sitting, standing, cruising, and of course walking phases. Each phase or “milestone” NEEDS to be mastered before going on to the next phase. Unfortunately for Oskar, he never seemed to master some of the earlier phases and that would explain some of his motor planning issues. He is not fully aware of his body and has problems in trying to get it to do certain things. Some of those neuro connections never properly connected or made a strong enough path. Think if your route to work was constantly changing from day to day, maybe due to construction. It would take a lot more brain power to make sure you were going to end up at work, rather than a relaxing drive home on “auto pilot”.
So for a toddler with ASD, simple tasks like walking, taking their breakfast bowl to the table, using utensils may all be too challenging. Tasks that should have been mastered long ago still require a lot of brain power – motor planning. Of course, this draining state can lead to other issues since they are “running full throttle” all the time. Adrenals and the immune system weakens. We humans can do anything “full tilt”, but not for too long. Just like machines, there will eventually be some failures somewhere.
We did find that there were positive results from both of these alternative therapies, and I think that is clearly visible in the documentary. We did take a break from both as we added in other things and recently focused solely on diet for 6 months. Our intent is to re-explore these as well as some other therapies to help stimulate Oskar’s brain and awaken the “sleeping parts” by strengthening the neuro pathways, and get rid of all the “Construction sites” so that when he does learn something new, it sticks better. And then he may have more control and less fighting with his body.
Follow along with the journey. And remember that your journey may be completely different, but that as parents we need to remember that the “experts” don’t have all the answers or solutions. It is our job to advocate, observe and use our gut instincts! Do therapies that your gut tells you might be a good “fit” for what you are seeing your child. And maybe stop anything that doesn’t seem to fit since you can always try again later.
Lastly, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. There are lots of free things in books or the internet that you can do or try at home. Don’t break the bank – listen to your gut!
*Doidge, Norman, M.D. The Brain’s Way of Healing. Viking Penguin, 2015.