Volume 9 Number 1, 2001
Learning Requires a Peaceful Setting
We are all familiar with the tragic events that have occurred in school settings such as Columbine High School. One of the ripple effects of these events is the resulting fear, stress and anxiety that are created in an environment that should present an atmosphere of calmness and peaceful security. This shift in the environment is likely to impact on the ability of the students to successfully learn. W. Thomas Boyce from the University of California, Berkeley, who studies the impact of stress on children, states with certainty, that “constant arousal results in a variety of changes that may interfere with cognitive processes by affecting actual brain functions.” His studies have shown that children need a safe, predictable and nurturing environment in order to learn well. Practitioners can apply this information to the environment in which they provide auditory integration training (AIT) and other auditory-based interventions.
When an individual participates in a training program, the practitioner should make every effort to assure that the listener will feel safe and calm during the process. According to Dr. Carla Hannaford, author of Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in your Head, the way we perceive an event determines our response and potential for learning from it. If we perceive it negatively, adrenaline and cortisol are released. Cortisol decreases our ability to learn and remember. If the event is positivelyperceived, other neurotransmitters are released that increase the ability to reorganize neural networks so we effectively think and remember. The survival-oriented brain processing that occurs when the individual is scared or stressed-out will be counter-productive during the program.
Providing a reassuring and safe environment may require some extra effort when working with individuals on the autism spectrum, or others with developmental disabilities, since they are easily stressed by new situations, environments and expectations. Some advance planning is needed in order to prepare the individual so he will understand what the routine is and what is expected of him. The following suggestions may be helpful for practitioners and parents.
- Practitioners may use phone discussions or e-mail to learn about the individual’s interests and special needs. Parents should ask about the routine and what will be expected of the child.
- If the family lives close for a pre-visit to the center, this may be helpful for introducing the child to the environment and staff. Some children benefit from having pictures taken so they can look at them at home. A photo story can be prepared to help the child begin to learn the routine.
- The practitioner may provide an Orientation Booklet, similar to a Social Story, for the parent to read to the child prior to the beginning of a session. It is beneficial to read these stories/booklets many times before the actual day of training begins.
- The child may need to bring a favorite object or comfort toy with him, especially the first day.
- A calendar, designed according to the child’s level of comprehension, can be used to visually show the child how many days he will be going to the center and when he will be finished. The calendar should show that there will be two sessions each day, so he is not surprised when you go back in the afternoon!
- A Time Timer (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 513-561-2599 for information) can be used to visually show the child how long the 30-minute session will last. Even three year olds will quickly understand how this timer represents the amount of time!
- Use of “first/then” contingencies, using pictures to represent “first – music/headphones, then – treat”, can be very reassuring, especially if the child is familiar with this behavioral approach.
- Reinforcement schedules may be useful for children who need frequent positive reinforcement for cooperating.
- The listening room should be comfortable and non-distracting. Beanbag chairs are often favorites with children, and help support the headphones on very young children.
Taking the time to carefully plan the program with the practitioner can make a situation that could be stressful turn into a wonderful experience for the family and practitioner. Better results may be achieved and everyone will benefit and be happier.
Parents and teachers can use the BrainConnection web site to access some games designed to develop auditory skills. There are games for children as well as some for adults. To access these games go to www.brainconnection.com, then click on the ‘brain teasers’ button.
Dunk Tank is designed to measure your reaction time – the total time it takes you to respond to a sound by clicking the mouse button. The player responds to the turtle speaking (the auditory clue) by quickly clicking the mouse. The reaction time is measured in milliseconds, or thousandths of a second. Our reaction time to auditory stimulus is extremely important in our daily lives. We must react to sounds that signal danger or emergencies, but reaction time is also important in listening, speaking and reading. In order to hear and understand a spoken word, we must process auditory sounds that change in fractions of a second. Reading also requires rapid manipulation and processing of letters to sounds. It takes the average reader just a few hundred milliseconds to read a familiar printed word. This game motivates the player to increase auditory attention and processing in order to improve their game score each time they play.
Weep Woop is designed to measure the player’s ability to identify two sequences of sound that are presented with increasingly shorter intervals between them. The amount of silence between the two sounds is called the inter-stimulus interval (ISI). As this interval becomes shorter, the player’s brain is challenged to process and identify the sounds more quickly. The game results show the shortest interval at which the player was able to correctly identify the sounds. This auditory processing ability is critical for accurate speech perception. Rate processing, as this is called, enables us to identify and remember sounds that change within tens of milliseconds, words that change within milliseconds, and sentences that change within seconds. Individuals who have difficulty with rate processing are likely to have problems using speech and understanding speech. For example, the ending “-ed” is used by a speaker to make the past tense of the verb jump. In natural speech, the “-ed” ending is very rapid. If the listener cannot process the sounds in time, she is missing out on an important grammatical function, and may misunderstand the information. It can also impact on the development of reading skills. Good readers depend upon the ability to map rapid speech sounds onto printed words and letters. The readers refer to these speech sounds as they attempt to decode or “sound out” words.
Bumper Cows is similar to the old electronic toy “Simon.” The computer version (Bumper Cows) requires the player to remember a sequence of events and repeat that sequence within a short timeframe. To achieve a high score, the player uses working memory to store the information and recall it in the correct sequence. The number of events the player can recall correctly gives an idea of the number of events he can hold in his working memory. Bumper Cows allows the player to use different types of information, such as visual (colors), auditory (sounds) and spatial (location on the screen). Working memory is important for listening, speaking and reading, and is critical for learning. Without working memory, a listener would forget each word of a sentence that was spoken to him as soon as he heard it. Silent reading typically uses auditory working memory and visual-spatial working memory to help the reader make sense of the written words and to remember them. People can help working memory to be more efficient by using “recoding.” We can recode digit list information such as 3, 7, 8, 4, which may be difficult to remember, into a new list, 37, 84, which is much easier to recall since there are just two pieces of information instead of four.
Additional games under Brain Challengers focus on learning letter names (ABC Gulp) and learning letter/sound relationships (Bear Wear). These will be helpful as pre-reading activities. Rapid Naming tests the player’s ability to connect visual and verbal information by seeing how quickly he can give appropriate names to common objects, shapes, colors, digits and letters. Rapid naming enables the speaker to focus his attention on higher-level skills without becoming stuck in the effort to name an object. Recognizing a printed word requires immediate identification of the letters. Young children who exhibit difficulty with rapid naming, may have more difficulty learning to read later on.
Sound Discrimination Games: There are five games on this web site for training sound discrimination. Some focus on learning to distinguish between tones, while others involve sound discrimination and working memory. Sound discrimination is important for listening to the spoken word and for reading. Without good sound discrimination, the reader will have problems learning phonics and applying these principles to reading and spelling. The listener with poor sound discrimination may misunderstand words that sound similar, making it difficult to figure out the meaning of the message.
Memory Attention Games: There are four games designed to exercise the mental processes required for attending to and remembering information. They involve visual memory, auditory memory, auditory discrimination, attention and reasoning. There are different levels, so you will need to check them to see which games are appropriate for the individual.
Brain plasticity is the mechanism that allows the brain to be molded or changed. Plasticity is an amazing feature with great power. However, there must be certain controls over it, otherwise, the brain would be constantly subjected to changes that may be beneficial at times, or possibly detrimental at other times. When one area of the brain (cortical map) grows, another area or map often shrinks, due to competition for neurons and synaptic space. To protect against whimsical changes within the brain, three prerequisites must be met. The brain will respond with change when these three conditions occur: attention, repetition and intense exposure. In other words, the individual needs to attend to a specific experience, the experience must be repetitious, and the exposure must be intense. Dr. Berard’s method of AIT meets these parameters, which may be an underlying reason why it has been so successful for so many years.
It is for these reasons that AIT cannot be approached casually. The brain typically does not respond with significant, permanent change to casual exposures. A definitive effort must be made to “convince” the brain that it is the individual’s intention to create a change.
In their study, 10 musicians, five men and five women, were asked to select music which they considered very beautiful and would actually send “chills up their spine.” Positron Emission Tomography, PET Scan, was used to detect which areas of the brain were activated while listening to their preferred music and to non-preferred music.
Blood and Zatorre found that there were many individual differences with respect to musical taste. For some subjects, these brain structures were activated when listening to rock music (i.e., their preferred music), but these areas were not activated when listening to other types of music, e.g., classical music (i.e., their non-preferred music).
The authors of the study concluded: “Because it [the music] activates the parts of the brain that makes us happy suggests that music benefits our physical and mental well-being.”
In 1997, an AIT device known as the Earducator was developed by Hollagen Designs in South Africa in collaboration with Dr. Berard. Rosalie Seymour, an AIT practitioner and instructor facilitated the early testing and launch of the device in South Africa. No studies comparing the relative benefits of the Earducator and the Audiokinetron were done in South Africa. This US. study was conducted in order to validate the benefits of the Earducator (compared with the Audiokinetron) and, if successful, pave the way for introduction of the Earducator into the United States.
The study population consisted of individuals diagnosed with autism, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder (ADD) who were already planning to have AIT. These subjects ranged in age from 3 years to 20 years. There were a total of 22 children, 21 boys and 1 girl, but no questionnaires were completed for 3 of the participants.
The individuals were randomly assigned to use either the Earducator or the Audiokinetron. Three qualified practitioners of the Berard Method of AIT were used in different parts of the country to ensure that generalized results were obtained. The practitioners participating in the study were Sally Brockett in North Haven, Connecticut, Carole Swick, Huffman, Texas and Rose Marie Davis, Buena Park, California. These practitioners selected the monitoring tests appropriate for each individual, however all subjects were monitored with the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC). The tests were administered immediately prior to starting AIT, and at 1 month, 3 months and 6 months after receiving AIT. This evaluation schedule has shown that the benefit over time is progressive through at least six months.
Since a large body of educationally related data has been previously acquired using the Audiokinetron, the limited sample data from the study could be compared to determine if the trends were consistent. Earlier data collected at the IDEA Training Center by Sally Brockett is typical of results reported by other practitioners and provides a reliable baseline for comparison.
The study procedure obtained baseline data for each individual in the study using relevant rating forms. AIT was then provided following the method of Dr. Berard, with audiologists performing listening evaluations and ear/hearing health evaluations.
A total of 19 children completed the ABC baseline and follow-up questionnaires with 11 using the Earducator and 8 using the Audiokinetron. The median scores for each group are shown for the existing large-sample (129 subjects) study and the study on Figure 1. The results from the study show very good agreement with the larger data set. The differences observed are to be expected with the relatively small sample size of the study and since median scores are presented.
Attention Deficit Disorders Evaluation Scale (ADD) data was obtained for three individuals who used the Earducator and is compared to prior data with 22 individuals that used the Audiokinetron. The mean results for the Earducator and Audiokinetron populations are presented in Figure 2. Again the trend of the Earducator data agrees well with the Audiokinetron. The 22 individuals that used the Audiokinetron had an average percentile gain of 23 points (from 30th percentile to the 53rd percentile). The individuals on the Earducator showed a slightly larger gain of 26 points (from the 25th percentile to the 51st), although this difference may not be significant due to the small sample size.
This study showed that the Earducator seems to be equivalent to the Audiokinetron in producing educational benefits for AIT recipients when evaluated by the ABC and ADD evaluation tools discussed above. During the AIT training period and throughout the follow-up period, comments and feedback were consistent with that received from earlier studies using the Audiokinetron. Based on these results, practitioners and AIT clients should have confidence that the Earducator produces significant educational benefit. Further study using the Earducator with larger populations and a variety of evaluation tools is recommended.