Many children with autism have auditory disturbances that can affect their behavior: A toddler screams when his mother runs the vacuum cleaner. A six year-old bolts out of a restaurant filled with chatter and jostled dishes. A fourth grader focuses on her fingers during a fire drill. A teen is slow to respond to the questions of a peer.
Generalizations about autism and the auditory system are easy to make. But people are affected by auditory distortions in different ways. For example, one child might be hypersensitive to high pitches, but strains to process the garbled sounds of deeper frequencies. Another is unable to fully capture her mother’s words, but easily fixates on the male voice of a Disney cartoon character. Behavioral reactions to auditory stimuli also vary from person to person. One might clam up and hyperfocus on a number on a screen after a five minute jaunt to a local arcade. Another could react to the same sounds with a heightened level of agitation, aggression, or hyperactivity.
Despite their individual differences, children with auditory imbalances often experience one thing in common-a deficit with language processing. This is often the result of Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)-a hearing impairment that affects the way the brain receives and processes auditory information. Those affected by CAPD typically hear incoming sounds, but struggle to comprehend and organize the information quickly and accurately. As a result, it takes them longer than others to respond to verbal communication. And their comments sometimes appear “off” in context to a given social conversation. This stems from picking up only bits and pieces of incoming language, and then guessing as to what has fully been said. It’s no surprise that a child’s ability to learn can be greatly impacted by this ear/brain coordination challenge. Areas of social and academic growth can be hit especially hard.
Many parents have turned to Auditory Integration Training (AIT) in their quest for auditory equilibrium with their children. The therapy involves listening to modulated music through headphones in 30 minute increments, twice a day, for ten straight days.
Khymberleigh Herwill-Levin, a certified AIT practitioner in South Lake Tahoe, explains the function of the therapy. “Auditory Integration Training retrains a disorganized auditory system,” she says. “The end result is that there is a more efficient processing of auditory information.”
She stresses the importance of correcting an imbalanced auditory system: “Once the cause of the hearing and auditory processing problem is corrected, all therapy and other educational interventions can often become more effective. Changes can then occur that enable the participant to achieve at a higher level.”
According to Herwill-Levin, over 20 clinical studies have been conducted on AIT which support claims to its efficacy. And she says the therapy has helped her clients in a variety of ways. She elaborates, “Some of the results that parents, teachers and therapist are reporting back are: improvements in awareness, responsiveness, expressive and receptive language, interest in communication, articulation, vocal intensity, auditory comprehension, better attention, focus, memory; and a reduction in destructibility, inappropriate behavior and stimming, impulsivity, and anti-social behavior.”
Khymberleigh Herwill Levin is the owner of Learning2Listen and the Brain Fitness Center. She travels to accommodate clients in Reno, Carson City, Gardnerville, and beyond. She is currently the sole AIT practitioner providing this therapy in the Reno-Tahoe vicinity.