By Valerie Dejean, OTR, Director of the Spectrum Center
Many listening therapies are available, and almost universally they claim that they are derived or based on the theories of the French physician, ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis. The Tomatis Method is based on a developmental model of how we all learned to listen – a process that started in the womb.
At the Spectrum Center in Bethesda, MD, we have been employing the Tomatis Method for many years. We are often asked what differentiates the Tomatis Method from other methods. Here, I’ll highlight what makes Tomatis unique.
Tomatis believed that the ear is much more than an organ of hearing. It energizes and regulates alertness and attention, coordinates posture and movement and connects intentions and thoughts.
Furthermore, he discovered that good listeners tune into the high frequency sounds that carry consonants and the meaning of language, while inhibiting the low frequency sounds which interfere with this perception. He invented several devices designed to rehabilitate those with dysfunction in these areas.
The Electronic Ear
One of Tomatis’ inventions is the electronic ear (EE). The EE has three features which are crucial in helping non-verbal children find a €œvoice.€ Each one is regulated by a separate dial, which allows the Tomatis practitioner to create a wide range of separate settings for individual clients depending upon their specific needs.
A gating mechanism on the EE, activated by the intensity and high-frequency content of both music and voice, trains the ear to make fine discriminations of sound in the desired high-frequency range. After the ear perceives and restores the missing frequencies, the voice is then able to produce them.
Changing the channels setting on the EE allows the practitioner to adjust the tension between the two muscles in the listener’s middle ear, in accordance with the profile determined by a listening test. The listener is then able to physically focus attention and increase the perception of meaningful sounds.
The practitioner manipulates the time delay between air conduction (which carries sound from the outer ear to the middle ear) and bone conduction (which carries from the middle ear to the inner ear). The bone conduction is heard through earphones first but for an elongated amount of time, so that the listener becomes acclimated to the sound before having to analyze it.
Channels and delays are integrated with the gates and work in conjunction with each other. Here are some other features of the Electronic Ear.
A very important feature on the Electronic Ear is the ability to progressively filter out sound frequencies below 9,000 hertz. The EE is able to re-create pre-natal and early listening by progressively filtering out the lower frequencies on both musical and speech recordings.
The EE, through a mechanism called the balance, helps us to progressively strengthen the right ear in its role of audio-vocal dominance. Tomatis discovered that the right ear has faster neuron pathways to the left hemisphere, which ideally, should have a controlling role in language and motor expression. Experimentation and observation will readily show that when the right ear is not dominant, expression (and even thinking!) becomes muddled and unfocused.
The microphone, along with the gate, is the most important feature of the electronic ear. The microphone completes the loop in the auditory-vocal re-education process; it is the glue for permanent change. In a typical microphone session, the client hears his own voice through the EE, which is modified through the gate, channels, delays, filters and balance, so as to accentuate the high frequencies.
With this high-frequency feedback, the client is able to incorporate these frequencies into his voice, which in turn enables the EE to gate better. This becomes the loop of better perception enabling better vocal production, which in turn enables even better perception.
Training and Programming
The aim of programming is to provide re-education of the ear by re-enacting the development of listening from the fetal stage (high frequencies) to birth and then through the development of language.
Tomatis therapy modifies the many functions of the ear. The EE is the instrument. The programmer is the virtuoso. Designing programs and adjusting them is the critical human “know how” of the Tomatis Method, which requires lengthy training of the Tomatis Practitioner.
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Madaule, Paul. When Listening Comes Alive: A Guide to Effective Learning and Communication. The Listening Centre, 1994.
Ruben, Sharon. Awakening Ashley: Mozart Knocks Autism on Its Ear. iUniverse, 2010.