Therapeutic Listening

What is Listening Therapy?

Listening is a function of the entire brain and goes well beyond stimulating the auditory system. We listen with our whole body. In order to fully address listening difficulties one must also attend to the listening functions of both the hearing ear and the body ear. One such approach that addresses the multiple facets of listening is Therapeutic Listening. [Listening With the Whole Body]

The main idea is to emphasize integration of the auditory and vestibular systems together. Since there is such a close connection with visual functioning, visual processing also will likely improve. Particularly spatial awareness, and the concept of time and space. [Eichelberger, 2002]

When a Therapeutic Listening program is being implemented, as with all interventions based on the principles of Sensory Integration, a therapist relies on the client’s cues to determine appropriate strategies [Kimball, 1993]. A child may be very active while listening, working on suspended equipment, and three-dimensional surfaces, which further challenge postural organization, motor planning, and higher-level sensory integration skills. The use of sound and music is so intimately connected to movement that children on listening programs are often compelled to move and explore thenenvironment in new ways. [Listening With the Whole Body]

It appears that sound stimulation alone facilitates the process of listening and social engagement [Porges, 1997]. However, to maintain and expand on those changes it is critical to engage the child in functionally and developmentally relevant activities that allows the changes to become a part of daily life skills. [Listening With the Whole Body]

The equipment required for listening therapy are headphones that meet specific requirements, a CD player with special features, and CD’s that are electronically altered, based on the ideas and the technology created by Alfred Tomatis, Guy Beard, and Ingo Steinbach. Depending on the child’s treatment goals, the therapist will determine which music, modulation, and activities best suit the child.
What Improvements Can I Expect to See?
When used in conjunction with Sensory Integration Therapy, improvement is usually seen in:

  • alertness, attention, and focus
  • receptive and expressive language, including articulation
  • balance and motor planning
  • affect and emotional responsivity
  • self-motivation
  • awareness of the environment
  • postural security
  • spatial awareness
  • initiation of play behavior
  • initiation of verbal interaction
  • modulation of sleeping, eating, toileting, alertness, emotional
  • stability [Eichelberger]

What does all this mean, you might ask? Sensory Integration Therapy is enhanced, it works better. The treatment is addressing more issues, and stimulating more senses. Results are usually seen earlier than without the listening program.
Have You Tried This?
In my personal experience, with my own boy utilizing Listening Therapy, I saw almost immediate and dramatic changes. I noticed regulation of his internal organs. He suddenly had a normal appetite, and began eating full meals, instead of “picking” through the day. His bowel movements became regular. He stopped wetting himself. For the first time in his four and a half years he began sleeping through the night.

His art became focused and complete, not random scribbles. He began hearing letter sounds that he had not heard before. He became calmer, attentive, and alert. His balance improved. His thinking and planning increased. He could plan a project or task, think it through, and complete it without frustration.

Typically, a child listens to music for two-thirty minute sessions each day. This became a wonderful opportunity for us to interact at home. We worked on projects, letters, writing, building sets, coordination, and numbers. He loved dancing and singing with the music. I could see that it enhanced his ongoing therapy.

It was also very helpful to us to use the Therapeutic Listening Home Program Chart. With a few words written each day we were able to track his progress, and see changes. Over a period of weeks we could already see the benefits. Talk to your child’s therapist to see if this program could be of benefit to your child.
Guidelines for Listening Therapy Materials

The Materials Are Expensive! Can’t I Cut Costs Somehow?

Hold on parents… before you run out and waste your money, I need to tell you something. The companies that manufacture and sell these prescription CD’s, say we MUST use a particular kind of headphones, and CD player, for a good reason.

The Headphones

The difference in the headphones you can buy at retail stores, and what you need to get for your kids is this:

Headphones have to meet specific requirements including an Impedance of 150 Ohms, and a sensitivity/frequency range of 22,000 or 23,000 HZ (i.e., 22 or 23 kHZ).

You can look for these high frequency range headphones retail, but make certain that the frequency range is as high as I just posted, and the Ohms at 150. If you choose not to use these high range headphones, don’t even bother to do the Listening Therapy.

WHY? Because the prescription CD’s have high and low frequency ranges, clicks and sounds built into them, it is not just “music”. These sounds are only heard, and transmitted to the brain, through the vestibular canal in the ear, into the cortex of the brain…

Lower frequency ranges cannot pick up the actual high/low frequency sounds that are a very helpful part of stimulation of the brain we need to get stimulated, to bring about changes in sensitivity in the brain.

For instance…why you can’t hear a dog whistle. The dog can hear frequency ranges that humans cannot hear. The same with these specialized headphones, and the same with the brain. It can pick up and respond to much higher and lower frequencies than we think, but only if we have a “transmitter” (headphones) that can hear and send that broad of a signal range. Make sense?

Really, the Listening Therapy will be of very limited help to your child, and not worth the trouble with, if you don’t get the full benefit of them. Most headphones, even nice ones sold on the open market retail, have a frequency range of about 10-11,000. Which means your child’s brain will hear less than half of what is incorporated into that CD to help your child. Ask when you shop and price them to make sure you get the right kind!

The CD’s

The CD’s themselves? Same deal. You may be able to copy them, but what are you copying? Half, in terms of frequency! And it’s a legal violation of rights.

The CD player specifications

This you can buy at any retail outlet but it must have the following features:

  • random play
  • ability to turn Bass OFF
  • a hold button to lock down the volume

The volume should be set and held at 45-55dB (decibels). Conversational speech is about 70 decibels, so you can see it needs to be lower than ordinary speech. Too loud can be harmful, so there is a need to be able to lock down that volume.

Should My OT Know All of This?
This is a wonderful program, and if your therapist does not already know these rules, please inform him/her. The cheapest headphones retail at about $65 from You will need to have the course completion number from your Listening Therapy provider, and contact them directly. You may be able to get them even cheaper on Ebay, or purchasing them from another parent, or your OT. Some OT’s will take payments.

ASK your OT about a “Lending Library”. I started one at our OT clinic, and it’s working well. Each parent only purchases one CD, and when finished with it, donates it to the clinic, which then allows the parents to borrow for free all the other CD’s they need. Major savings.

Again, this program is so very beneficial to many children, mine included, but there are strict guidelines to follow and cautions to watch out for, when you do it.

And…if you DO find any headphones sold retail that are of that frequency range and Ohm level, please come back and tell us, so we know there is another option!!

It’s just too important not to tell you the “real deal”, and let you waste your time and money, all the while not actually helping your child. But know that the Therapeutic Listening Programs can be very beneficial to our SPD kids.

— Written by Michelle Morris, 2005