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Tomatis® & Autism

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes Autism spectrum disorder (or ASD) as:

“a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.  Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).  Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.  Experts estimate that 1 out of 88 children age 8 will have an ASD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 30, 2012).  Males are four times more likely to have an ASD than females.”

kids-with-autismAccording to the National Institutes of Health, diagnosing ASD requires an evaluation by a multidisciplinary team, including a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and other professionals, such as a Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician.  At present, “scientists aren’t certain about what causes ASD, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.”  Also, “there is no cure for ASDs.  Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement.

The Tomatis® Method does not lay claim to curing Autism.  However, prime aspects of the listening therapy do help in alleviating many of its symptoms.  Jacqueline Parks, a Yahoo! contributor, explains in her article:

“Most autistic children are hypersensitive to sound. They have trouble shutting anything out, so they just shut down. For this reason, their Tomatis® Listening Therapy usually starts with sound desensitization. Tomatis® listening programs teach the child to use his ears, as opposed to bone conduction, for primary sound recognition and to shut out irrelevant noises. This enables the autistic child to learn through sound. Because speech is primarily learned through sound perception and imitation, this opens a path to speech development. As the autistic child realizes that he can produce sounds, control them, and communicate with them, he develops a better sense of self and is better able to interact with his environment.

“As autistic children complete the various stages of their Tomatis® programs, there will be improvement in areas not directly related to listening or communication. As children become less sensitive to sound, they also often become less sensitive to tactile stimulation and to food textures. They are more likely to make eye contact and to cuddle. Your picky eater may suddenly be more willing to eat different foods. Probably the best benefit of Tomatis® Listening Therapy is an improved relationship with your autistic child. Results vary, but all children show some improvement. (Source: tomatis.com)”

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The Man Behind the Name

Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis was the French doctor who developed the Tomatis Method.

If you search about him through the internet, you will be bombarded with loads of uncertain facts about this man (his actual birthdate, the controversy behind his medical practice, his methods of research).  However, one main thing that is definitely true is that he was a Renaissance Man, whose unique ideas and work were greatly notable way before his time.  Dr. Tomatis was, after all, one of the first doctors who established the fact that fetuses in the womb can already hear their mother’s voice while in gestation, and that this phenomenon has a great effect on the development of the child.

If you wish to learn more about this fascinating man, I would recommend that you read his autobiography, The Conscious Ear: My Life of Transformation Through Listening.  The book begins dramatically enough with Dr. Tomatis describing his traumatic birth, and how his 16-year old mother wantonly disregarded him.

“It is useless to bother with him.  He’s dead.”

These were the first words my ears heard when I left my mother’s womb, though I certainly didn’t understand them.

However, if you continue on, you will discover how he survived, with the help of his father, Umberto, into a successful man in his field.  It is especially delightful to read how young Dr. Alfred helped his father’s colleagues in the opera world regain their singing voices.  Other captivating anecdotes in the book include:  how he came to Paris all alone as an 11-year old boy; how he began his research into Occupational Deafness through the unwitting help of the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso; and how he lost nearly a hundred pounds through a self-imposed starvation regimen.

There is no doubt about it, the man is truly eccentric, acerbic, and demanding.  But the work Dr. Tomatis has left behind was born from a genuine soul who did all he could to help other people.  And today, through the administration of the Tomatis Method, the doctor’s legacy lives on.