Auditory Processing & Autism

Children on the autistic spectrum can find the processing of sensory information a challenge. Research shows particularly that auditory processing can be a key factor. Auditory interventions have been used for a number of years and improvements in technology are now offering new ways of delivering sound stimulation programmes in the home to help with these underlying processing and integration difficulties.

Auditory Processing
Many children on the autistic spectrum have accompanying difficulties with auditory processing. These can take the form of, but are not limited to, challenges with: -

  • Sound sensitivities – hypersensitivity to sound can cause ‘fight or flight’ reactions meaning the system is constantly on alert.
  • Sound discrimination – Difficulties with the discrimination of phonemes or tone of voice can affect our comprehension of language and meaning.
  • Filtering out background sounds – Being able to tune out certain sounds and concentrate on others is a basic skill to aid concentration and processing.
  • Temporal processing – Understanding the timing and pattern of sound is vital to our understanding rhythm and language.
  • Auditory cohesion – A higher-level task helping us to understand the meaning and subtlety of communication.

The interaction of the different senses is now becoming more understood and accepted. It is known that we can use visual stimulus to affect auditory and other systems. Similarly auditory stimulus can be used to affect the integration of information of the auditory and other internal systems. It is perhaps more useful to talk about ‘sensory processing’ rather than ‘auditory processing’ alone. Individuals on the autistic spectrum can have hypo or hyper sensitivities to a range of stimulus. Many instinctively know what stimulus their system requires and self stimulate by rocking, humming, eating dirt and grass or covering their ears to avoid certain auditory stimulation. Sleep patterns, social skills, emotional outbursts and many other areas can be affected.

Sound Stimulation and Dr. Alfred Tomatis
The field of sound stimulation began in the 1950’s with the work of the French ENT specialist, Dr Alfred Tomatis. He recognised the importance sound plays in terms of the integration and development of our whole system. Developing the theory that different functions of the body relate to different sound frequency bands he worked with acoustically modified sound as a therapeutic tool to help many individuals with sensory processing, language and comprehension challenges.

The Listening Program®
In 1997 a multidisciplinary team began working to develop a sound stimulation programme using the most advanced acoustic techniques available. Drawn from the fields of neurodevelopment, music, medicine, speech and lan0067uage therapy, sound therapy and audio engineering, The Listening Program (TLP) Classic Kit was launched in 1999. Many autistic individuals have experienced gains in many areas since the launch of the Classic Kit. Improvements in sleep patterns, sound sensitivities, language development, social skills and attention have been seen amongst others.

New Developments
The team behind TLP have continued to develop the field of sound stimulation and the new TLP Level One Kit offers advancements to particularly help with areas of sound discrimination, temporal processing and auditory attention.

The new advancements include recording in High Definition and the use of Spatial Surround™ sound with dynamic movement. This allows a listener to experience the highest available quality of sound in a 360° soundfield with individual instrument recording. This level of technology allows for gentle and powerful training of many of the auditory skills that autistic individuals find challenging.

One 6 year old autistic boy benefiting from TLP at present is Tom Sherlock.

Tom has been on the Son-Rise™ programme since the age of 3 and has made progress. He began TLP in June 2006 and also took a short course of TLP Bone Conduction for 2 weeks. He then began listening at home to TLP Level One which is an initial 10 week programme of listening. His Mum, Jackie, comments as follows: -

“Our six year old son Tom has now been listening to The Listening Programme for 8 months and we have seen some wonderful changes in him.

His interactive attention span is now much longer, he used to be very ‘flitty’ with tasks and games and is now much more attentive for longer periods of time.

This has also helped his ability to hold a conversation and we now have lengthy conversations about all kinds of topics, now he has such a huge appetite for knowledge that we have had to buy him a children’s encyclopaedia!

He has for the first time shown interest in reading and writing, which he was never motivated by before.  He knows all his alphabet and is now reading words!

Also as a result of his listening we have discovered he has a fantastic memory and can relate names and stories that have been shared with him days and weeks before.

Tom enjoys his listening time and there is never a difficulty in encouraging Tom to do his listening and for us that speaks volumes.  One thing we have learnt from Tom, is that he is our best teacher in terms of what is good and works for him and we know he is getting huge benefits from The Listening Program”.

With other autistic children improvements in sleep patterns and a more relaxed and calm attitude will be apparent. Improvements in eye contact and social skills, language awareness, attention and concentration are also often seen.

A huge benefit for a sound stimulation programme is that TLP is a home-based programme and can easily be combined with any other type of remediation programme. Of course, for many autistic individuals the possibility of listening to the programme in their own familiar surroundings is important.

TLP is only available through the network of trained Providers who are experienced in developing an individual listening schedule for the particular needs and sensitivities of the listener. A schedule of 15 – 30 minutes per day for 5 days each week is followed and a typical family will invest from around £350 in the programme itself. Providers will charge relatively low fees to help develop and monitor each programme of listening, keeping in regular touch throughout the process. More intensive bone conduction options are also available.

To learn more about The Listening Program, view case studies and research, find a Provider, or for professionals interested in training see or contact Learning Solutions on 01274 777250.

Alan Heath
Alan is the UK trainer for The Listening Program®, an accredited Brain Gym® Instructor and NLP Practitioner. He works extensively in schools in the UK and internationally, training teachers in Auditory Processing, Accelerated Learning and Brain Gym. He is the author of ‘Beating Dyslexia A Natural Way’ published in 1997 and runs a consultancy service for children with a range of learning and sensory difficulties. More details of his work can be found at

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