Table of Contents
Listening versus Hearing
Listening and the Development of Language and Learning Skills
Identifying a Listening Problem
Phases of the Program
The Tomatis Method is based on the work of Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis. Dr. Tomatis was a French physician and Otolaryngology specialist who has spent the past 50 years developing a methodology which assists and accelerates the development of listening skills, language and communication. The Tomatis Method has been successfully applied by speech, language, and learning specialists through out the United States. Not only has this method seen success here in the U.S., it has been used by special education teachers and psychologists in Canada as well as physicians, musicians, teachers, and orthophonists in Europe. The success rates in Europe are so high that it is covered by insurance companies to treat various learning disabilities and learning problems.
Used extensively in Europe and Canada, The Tomatis Method is relatively new to the United States. Currently there are only 12 centers nationwide that offer the Tomatis Method of auditory stimulation and re-education.
The Tomatis Method is considered to be an alternative intervention in the United States. Tomatis practitioners are establishing research projects for publication in peer review journals and publications. All research to date has been conducted in France, Germany, England, Italy and Canada. Research findings indicate that the Tomatis Method is an efficacious therapeutic intervention for communication, learning and behavioral problems.
Listening versus Hearing
The Tomatis Method is based on many important theories. One of those is the basic assumption that there is a distinction to be made between “listening” and “hearing.” The two are related but distinct processes. “Hearing” is generally defined as a passive process in which sound is simply perceived. “Listening” is defined as an active, focusing process which allows for a quick and precise analysis of sounds that are heard. Some children, for instance, don’t understand words and sentences because certain sounds arrive in reverse order. ‘Desk’ may sound like ‘decks.’
It is perhaps possible to draw an analogy between hearing and listening on one hand and seeing and looking on the other. Looking is a focusing process, which permits a precise analysis of what it is the individual is seeing. The same can be said of listening and hearing. Listening, like looking, is an active focusing process which has a volitional (motivational) component. The desire to listen, as well as the capability to listen, must be present for the successful recognition and analysis of sound, especially the complex sounds of language. Good listening implies that the individual is both able and motivated to focus their hearing. Tomatis’ definition of listening ability included both neurophysiological component and a motivational component. In order to learn, you have to be able to listen.
Listening and the Development of Language and Learning Skills
Another important theory made by Tomatis is that the quality of an individual’s listening ability will affect the quality of both their spoken and written language development. Given that sounds of language are introduced to the individual long before the written or graphic forms, it is assumed that the ease with which the child integrates the sound of language will affect the ease with which they can understand and express language, first in the spoken form and later in its written form.
Dr. Tomatis asserts that the importance of good listening is obvious when one receives spoken information. In learning and communication situations, effective listening will facilitate the reception and understanding of verbal information. Deficits in attention and concentration may, in fact, reflect problems in the listening or “focusing” process of the ear.
Tomatis describes another aspect of listening which is equally important; it is this process of attending to the sounds of one’s own speech. Tomatis refers to this as self-listening or audio-vocal control. Tomatis’ early research with professional singers led him to conclude that the quality of the ear’s response to sound will be reflected in the quality of the individual’s voice. For example, if the individual’s ear is incapable of clearly hearing higher frequency sounds, the individual will be unable to reproduce these sounds vocally. This finding applies to both singing and speech and was formally recognized as the “Tomatis Effect” by the French Academy of Science in 1957.
The fluency or ease with which the individual expresses himself is also a part of the self-listening process. In Tomatis’ view, an important element in the self-listening process is the establishment of an audio-vocal laterality, or lateral dominance at the level of listening. This means that it is important to have one ear as the directing ear, the leading ear, for speech sounds. In the great majority of cases, Tomatis states that the ear best suited for this directing role when language sounds are being received or expressed is the right ear. This view is consistent with the well-acknowledged fact that language functions are mediated by the left brain and that the majority of direct neural tracts serving the language are of the left brain come from and go to the auditory and phonatory organs on the right side of the body (right ear, right larynx, etc.).
Tomatis also indicates in his writings that the leading or directing role played by the right ear does not diminish the value of the left ear. It is the complementarities of the right and the left ear along with the complementarities of the left and right brain, which permits the creative use of speech and language.
An individual’s ability to process and analyze the sounds of language may also influence their ability to translate the sounds of language into their written form. Reading is not simply a visual process. Reading involves the rapid analysis of graphic images (letters), which represent sounds; it is sound which gives meaning to the letter or graphic image. The process of decoding the graphic images or letters into sounds, and subsequently, the recognition of their meaning, is more efficient when auditory processing skills are well developed. Writing may be viewed in a similar way. It is a process in which sounds are translated into graphic form. If the sounds of language are poorly integrated, there is likely to be a disturbance in their graphic reproduction. The ability to spell may be hindered by such an underlying disturbance.
The foundation on which receptive (reading) and expressive (written) skills are built is spoken language. If the sounds that form the basis of language are not clearly recognized and thoroughly analyzed, this can pose an obstacle to the development of written language skills. Listening is a key to the development and enhancement of language and learning skills. More generally, listening influences communication and thereby shapes the individual’s social development, confidence and self-image as well. Tomatis’ assertion that improving listening ability will lead to improvement in the individual’s ability to communicate summarizes the underlying rationale of the program of auditory stimulation known as the Tomatis Method.
In Tomatis’ view, there are two major factors which are prerequisites for good listening to occur. First, at the neurophysiological level, the mechanisms and systems involved in the focusing response must be intact and operational. Second, at the psychological level, the motivation and desire to listen and communicate must be present. Both the neurophysiological ability and the motivation to employ this ability must be present for effective listening to occur.
Listening is viewed as a fundamental contributor to the development of language skills; it is an outgoing component of our use of language, particularly the outgoing control of our own speech. The ease with which an individual listens can affect the degree of success and, therefore, the pleasure and satisfaction he can achieve in communication with others.
Identifying A Listening Problem
There are many different symptoms to consider when identifying a listening problem. Below you will find a list of symptoms commonly found in individuals who have learning and communication problems. However, not all of these symptoms will be characteristics of all individuals. If you find the presence of some or a majority of these symptoms you may want to consider the degree to which a poor listening ability may be contributing to the individual’s learning and communication problems.
Developmental History: The early years
This knowledge about the younger years is extremely important in the early identification and prevention of listening problems. It also can help shed light on possible causes of listening problems.
- A stressful pregnancy
- Difficult birth
- Early separation from the mother
- Delay in motor development
- Delay in language development
- Recurring and chronic 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, restlessness, and daydreaming
- Over-sensitivity to sound
- Misinterpretation of questions
- Confusion of similar sounding words
- Frequent need for repetition
- Inability to follow sequential instruction
- Poor attention and concentration in learning and communication environments
- Difficulty to follow and participate in conversations
Expressive Listening: Our internal environment
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. Individuals with listening-based communication problems are frequently seen to have very poor audio-vocal control or self-listening.
- Flat and monotonous voice
- Hesitant Speech
- Weak Vocabulary
- Poor sentence structure
- Overuse of stereotyped expression
- 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 left and rights
- Mixed dominance (of hands?)
- Poor sports skills
- Poor organizational and planning skills
- Poor spatial orientation
- Poor sense of time
The Level of Energy: Our fuel system
The ear acts like a dynamo (a powerful motor), providing the “brain” energy we need not only to survive but also to lead fulfilling lives.
- Difficulty getting up
- Tiredness at the end of the day
- Habitual procrastination
- Tendency toward depression
- Feeling overburdened with everyday tasks
Behavioral and Social Adjustments: Our relationship skills
A result of poor listening skills is often related to these qualities of interacting with others.
- Low tolerance for frustration
- Poor self-confidence
- Poor self image
- Difficulty making friends
- Tendency to withdraw or avoid others
- Low motivation, no interest in school/work
- Negative attitude towards school/work
Phases of the Program
The general format of the program is to stimulate the various stages of listening and language from the earliest stages to the later. There are a total of four blocks which take place in the Tomatis Method. Each block represents an important and valuable part of learning and listening. The blocks are as follows:
Block 1 – The Passive phase: A Total of 30 hours: 2 hours a day for 15 days.
Block 2 – Active Phase I: Starts after a 3 to 4 week Break and consists of 20 hours: 2 hours a day over a 10-day period.
Block 3 – Active Phase II: Starts after a 3 to 4 week Break and consists of 20 hours: 2 hours a day over a 10-day period.
Block 4 – The Maintenance Phase: Starts 3 to 4 weeks after phase 2; and also consists of 20 hours over a 10-day period.
The passive phase begins with a gradual introduction to the filtered sounds. In this phase the individual starts with exposure to low frequency sound soon moving into the high frequency sound range. The mother’s voice is also exposed during this phase with high frequency sounds accentuated (the filtered mother’s voice is unrecognizable).
During the passive phase the individuals draw, paint, play games, do exercises that increase their sensory awareness or that improve their balance and coordination. They also work on puzzles, read, build with legos and blocks, as well as play with mind puzzles. The passive phase is they training period for the ear to learn to listen as oppose to just hearing.
The active phase is the second of the three phases. In this phase the individuals do many of the same kinds of activities found in the passive phase, but they are also involved with doing vocal exercises as well. The individuals read and sing. They do this into a microphone that is connected to the electronic ear. The electronic ear filters their voice and sends it back through the headphones. The feedback from the voice is modified so to enhance the higher frequencies or higher harmonics in the voice. At the same time, increased stimulation is given to the right ear in order to enhance its role as the leading or directing ear in the control of the individual’s own speech.
The maintenance phase is the third and final phase. During this phase the individual works to maintain right ear dominance as well as continuing to strengthen the ear. The activities in this phase are similar to those in phase two. After the maintenance phase, a final listening test and evaluation will be conducted to measure the various changes the individual has experienced.
The Tomatis Method is a very clinically intensive program. Each individual spends two hours a day experiencing the program. Each daily schedule is full of clients hoping to receive the optimum results from the program. Part of this includes punctuality. It is very important to be on time. If the individual is late, their time will be cut short to accommodate for the following clients. In order for this program to be affective it is important to receive the full treatment and complete each tape fully.
In our younger clients, we encourage heavy participation from the parents. Often times these young individuals have a hard time monitoring the different changes they are experiencing. This is when we ask the parents to help out. Positive reinforcement of the program is also important. Many young patients don’t understand “Why they have to do it,” and with strong support from the parents it becomes easier for them.
There have been hundreds of case studies done on the benefits of the Tomatis Method. All of these case studies find a multitude of benefits associated with the Method. However, most but not all of these studies have been conducted in Europe and in Canada. Research in the United States is growing. Currently there is research taking place on the effects of Tomatis in the United States. One of the most promising is happening here in California. The University of California at Davis M.I.N.D. () institute is working with Dr. Swain to measure the effects of the Tomatis Method on Autistic children. From what can be seen so far, the results are very promising.
The most recent published research was conducted by Dr. Tim Gilmore. This study was a Meta analysis based on five studies involving 231 children. The study found that the Tomatis method significantly improves linguistic skills, psychomotor skills, personal and social adjustment skills, cognitive skills, and auditory skills.
Dr. Gilmore’s research is just one of many that examines the many benefits of the Tomatis Method. For a look at some of the others please contact the Tomatis Web Site- www.tomatis.com. Click the link labeled “Research.”
Gilmore, T.M., Overview of the Tomatis Method. The Listening Centre; Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Unpublished Manuscript, Revised 1985.
Tomatis, A.A., The Conscious Ear. New York, Station Hill Press, 1991