All One Girl Needed in her Struggle with Autism was Help from Mozart
SOURCE: Except Parent 36 no4 Ap 2006
Report: Shauna Garelick
This article tracks the process of a girl named Ashley who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 21 months. Non-verbal, and socially withdrawn, Ashley was unable interact with her family and peers. While occupational and speech therapy failed, Ashley’s mother found new research being done at the Spectrum Centre in Maryland by an ear, nose and throat doctor, Dr. Tomatis. He discovered that “when our ears don’t perceive frequencies of sound, our voice won’t contain them either.” His goal was to change the way people hear so that they would have better control over their voice. He decided that a person would need to exercise the muscles inside the ear to achieve this. The underdeveloped hearing was tracked back to hearing in utero. Dr. Tomatis’ therapy replicates how an individual would hear in utero. Because a fetus in utero is only able to hear pitches from its mother, Dr. Tomatis used music from Mozart since his music contains the most pitches above this frequency. The low frequencies are removed in the initial stages of the therapy and reintroduced. Gregorian chants were also used due to its relaxed and consistent rhythm that resembles the heartbeat and respiration rate. Microphone work was also used to help Ashley to gain a more realistic perception of her voice and gain more control over it. The therapy lasts for 3 loops. The first is fifteen days while loops two and three last for eight days. Each day of the loop, the participant listens to music via headphones for two hours. Ashley’s mom kept her enrolled for nine loops. Ashley eventually began expressing her self verbally and socially. Ashley’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder was eventually removed from the same doctor who had diagnosed her.
This article stems from a belief from Dr. Tomatis that the eardrums of individuals with autism are underdeveloped. However, there is nothing in the article that substantiates this belief. It seems as if the success of this therapy is what confirmed his theory. However, would it not be possible to determine this through biological research as well? Given the successes that Dr. Tomatis has had with this therapy, it is difficult to dispute the results. When a child becomes verbal and social over such a short period of time with so many years of being withdrawn, it seems amazing. Questions that still remain surround the issue that many people with autism are verbal and lack social cues. Is this because they cannot properly hear inflection? Does the level of how developed the ear is determine this? Since there are results that indicate the diagnosis can be withdrawn with this therapy, does this imply that autism is actually a result of an underdeveloped ear? It would be interesting to know success rates and to what degrees people are successful within this therapy to further determine if this is the case? This article is an amazing snapshot and perhaps that was its intention, but it leaves many unanswered questions.
Because autism is so far from being understood, nothing is too farfetched. Clearly, there is something to this therapy. Ideally, there would a study that used a control group to establish its efficacy and what part of the therapy is the most significant. However, with autism, it is difficult to develop a control group because of the wide spectrum that exists between patients. Assuming that the ears of individuals with autism are significantly un/underdeveloped, then this therapy makes sense. However, I would be curious to know what provided Dr. Tomatis with the initial evidence to believe this. I have read that the auditory filter in people with autism is broader than other individuals, but this was in an attempt to explain why individuals with autism have significantly better pitch perception than others. The fact that this is true, but they’re ears are underdeveloped leaves me with many more questions than before reading the article. Is there a relationship between these two things? Or is the underdeveloped ear strictly related to that of finding meaning where the pitch perception has to do more with brain function. Lack of socialization or difficulty identifying social cues by individuals with autism is key in its diagnosis. However, how does this relate to having underdeveloped ears? People who are deaf do not have the same difficulties that people with autism do in this area.
Ashley’s mother Sharon Ruben wrote a book about Ashley’s struggle. For more information, go to www.awakeningashley.com.