Good Learners are Good Listeners

Is your child’s learning disability actually a listening disability?

You have heard about the link between auditory processing and reading. In fact, if you have been a regular reader of this newsletter over the years, you might be sick of hearing about auditory processing!

But as time does on, the link becomes more and more evident. Studies are being done and books are being written that emphasize the importance of auditory processing in learning to read, communicating with oral and written language, and developing adequate social skills. I have seen this verified over and over in our clinical work with students.

As we have worked in this area, I have been continuously reminded of the wholeness of learning and of the learner. I have previous written about the auditory system, (“Breakthroughs in Auditory Processing” at www.learningdisability.com) and its connections not only with the language center of the brain, but with the vestibular system (our system of balance and movement), and the automatic functions of the body (respiratory, digestive, and eliminatory).

When we use sound therapy to stimulate the auditory system, we find the results to be more global than the original goals of increasing phonemic awareness, reading, or language skills. Improvements in handwriting, posture, sleep habits, communication, social skills, confidence, calmness and math are a few of the peripheral changes we have seen.

Dr. Alfred Tomatis, a French ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist), discovered in the early 1950’s that the ay we listen has a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. He also discovered that many learning problems are the direct result of listening problems.

He distinguished hearing from listening, indicating that they are actually two different functions of the ear.

Hearing is the passive perception of sound.
Listening, on the other hand, involves the desire and ability to focus on selected sounds; to choose what sound information we want to attend to so that we can process it in a clear and organized manner.

Listening is closely related to attention and concentration, and integration, understanding and retention of auditory information, and therefore, critical to learning.

What happens when a person’s hearing is good, but their listening is poor?
Surprisingly, poor listening can affect a wide number of areas. Canadian Listening Therapist and author Paul Madaule has put together a checklist of abilities or qualities that relate to listening skills.

There is no score, but this tool may be helpful evaluating an individual’s ability to listen, and therefore to learn. This checklist is reprinted here with the permission of The Listening Center 599 Markham Street., Toronto, ON M6G 2L7 (Tel: (416) 588-4136, Fax: (416) 588-4459, www.listeningcenter.com

Listening Skills Checklist
Development History: Our early years
This knowledge about our younger years is extremely important in early identification and prevention of listening problems. It also sheds light on possible causes of listening problems.

  • A stressful pregnancy
  • Difficult birth
  • Adoption
  • Early separation from the mother
  • Delay in motor development
  • Delay in language development
  • Recurring ear infections

Receptive Listening: Our external environment
This type of listening is directed outward to the world around us. It keeps us attuned to what’s going on at home, at work, in the classroom or with friends.

  • Short attention span
  • Distractibility
  • Over-sensitivity to sounds
  • Misinterpretation of questions
  • Confusion of similar-sounding words
  • Frequent need for repetition
  • Inability to follow sequential instructions

Express Listening: Our internal atmosphere
This is the kind of listening that is directed within us. We use it to listen to ourselves and to gauge and control our voice when we speak and sing.

  • Flat and monotonous voice
  • Hesitant speech
  • Weak vocabulary
  • Poor sentence structure
  • Overuse of stereotyped expressions
  • Inability to sing in tune
  • Confusion or reversal of letters
  • Poor reading comprehension
  • Poor reading aloud
  • Poor spelling

Motor Skills: Our physical abilities
The ear of the body (the vestibule), which controls balance, muscle and eye coordination and body image needs close scrutiny also.

  • Poor posture
  • Fidgety behavior
  • Clumsy, uncoordinated movements
  • Poor sense of rhythm
  • Messy handwriting
  • Hard time with organization, structure
  • Confusion of lefts and rights
  • Mixed dominance

Level of Energy: Our fuel system
The ear acts like a dynamo (a powerful motor), providing us with the “brain” energy we need to not only survive but also to lead fulfilling lives.

  • Difficulty getting up
  • Tiredness at the end of the day
  • Habit of procrastinating
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tendency toward depression
  • Feeling overburdened with everyday tasks

Behavioral and Social Adjustment: Our relationships skills
A listening difficulty is often related to these qualities of interacting with others.

  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Poor self-confidence
  • Poor self-image
  • Shyness
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Tendency to withdraw or avoid others
  • Irritability
  • Immaturity
  • Low motivation, no interest in school/work
  • Negative attitude toward school/work

At the Learning Center, we use Samonas Sound Therapy to stimulate the auditory system and improve listening and listening-related skills. As students become better listeners, they have also become better learners. Here is one story:

John came to the learning center as a 7 year old. He had been diagnosed with apraxia, which affected his gross motor coordination, graphomotor skills (handwriting), and oral motor skills.

When he started, John showed extreme difficulty with any fine or gross motor movements, organization, or coordination. He had difficulty articulating sounds and words and difficulty expressing himself in a way that others could understand. He was obviously very bright, but had difficulty with social and language comprehension. He had huge amounts of uncontrolled energy and serious attention problems. He could attend to a task for only 10-15 minutes with re-direction.

He was a non-reader, had trouble making friends, and had poor self-esteem.

After 4 weeks of sound therapy, John had better control in swimming; more eye contact; clearer, more controlled language; and had begun asking questions about conversations and other things in general.

After 6-7 weeks of sound therapy, John was using larger words and more mature sentences and questions. His sentences were no longer fragmented. He showed dramatic improvement in artwork (from scribbles to drawings), and showed better motor coordination. He started doing front and back somersaults in the pool, with control. He wrote a note on his own for the first time and posted it on his bedroom door. His self-esteem was reported as high!

John’s learning skills improved dramatically as a result of his listening therapy. His increased attention, motor coordination, articulation, communication, and auditory and language processing abilities allowed him to be ready for further processing skills development and academic skills. John is now reading at grade level!

Samonas Sound Therapy is a music and sound stimulation method that focuses on re-educating the ear and auditory pathways for increased attention, communication, listening, and sensory integration. This is accomplished through the use of specially modified classical music and nature sounds that stimulate the hearing mechanism to take in a full spectrum of sound.

Samonas was developed by German sound engineer, Ingo Steinbach. With his background in physics and music, Steinbach combined the principles of Dr. Alfred Tomatis with advances in technology and physics to develop the Samonas recordings.