The Power of Sound: Can it Really Cure Autism, Dyslexia, ADD and Other Learning Disorders?

PR writes: “About ten years ago, my daughter who had some signs of autism was referred for Tomatis Therapy by her Speech Therapist. We had her in this type of therapy, as well as auditory integration therapy for several months. The therapy did terrible things to her brain, and we eventually stopped. (Ialso did some kind of sound therapy, which I realize now I should not have done). Is this a type of New Age practice? I am so thankful to EWTN and your program. I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, but It is almost impossible without the proper resources.  This is not information we typically get from our parish priests.  Thank you for any information you can give me on this.”

From what I can see, Tomatis Therapy has nothing to do with the New Age – it’s just another one of the many techniques in use today in the field of psychology that are long on testimonials but very short on scientific support.

According to a research paper by Jill Lawton of Vanderbilt University, Tomatis Therapy was invented in the 1950’s by a French ear, nose and throat doctor named Alfred A. Tomatis and is based on the theory that people suffering from auditory processing problems, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, autism and learning disorders can improve their communication and social behavior by auditory stimulation, which he claims can eliminate or reduce the severity of these disorders. It’s based on the theory that the symptoms of these disorders aren’t caused by the disorder itself, but by a sensory regulation problem that begins in our most primordial sensory instrument – the inner ear. He claims that attention, focus, learning and language abilities can all be improved by retraining the ear to listen using high frequency sounds.

According to a practitioner, “Tomatis came to believe that the ear was much more than an organ of hearing. It is, he maintained in charge of functions including; energizing and regulating the brain’s state of alertness and attention; coordinating posture and movement; and connecting our intentions and thoughts with our physical and verbal transactions upon our environment. Tomatis’s life mission eventually became the understanding of how the ear was physiologically involved in acquiring and controlling of the voice and language. To this end he invented several technologies, which could be used to rehabilitate the ear related functions of alertness, attention, coordination and voice.”

Treatment begins by assessing a patient’s present and potential hearing, and then a program is designed to reteach them how to listen. The programs are custom-made but follow a basic pattern. Using an “Electronic Ear”, which is a tape recorder that filters sound and allows the fequency to be adjusted, initial workouts consist of listening to very high frequencies that simulate pre-natal sounds and reproduce the stages of development from an audial point of view. These listening sessions are gradually combined with exercises in which the voice is used to maintain the lessons learned.

Lawton goes on to tell an interesting story about Tomatis and Benedictine monks. “There is a story that says Dr. Tomatis visited a Benedictine monastery in France in the early 1960s following the second Vatican Council.  One of the decisions the council had made was to eliminate the traditional chanting for a more constructive use of time.  Gradually changes took place among the monks.  They became more lethargic and less motivated.  Sleeping more and eating more was no help. 

“In February of 1952, Dr. Tomatis was invited back to evaluate the situation.  His Electronic Ear was put into use to improve the men’s hearing, which had weakened since he had seen them last.  He also requested that the chanting be brought back into their daily routine.  Nine months later the monks had fully returned to their rigorous lifestyle of little sleep, hard work, and vegetarian diets with renewed vigor.  The singing of the chant was believed to affect the brain as to bring energy to the body.”
The Internet is full of interesting stories such as this one, but these don’t mean the Tomatis method is plausible. There is little or no evidence that high frequency sounds really do charge the brain and the body. Most of the studies done thus far are either unscientific, such as the above story, or were done by centers that were trying to sell the program.

Objective clinical tests are difficult to find. One of the more recent was a 2007 study which found that even though the majority of the children demonstrated general improvement in language over the course of the study, their improvement did not appear to be related to the treatment condition. According to the study, “The results reflect a lack of improvement in language using the Tomatis Method for children with autism.”

I’m reading a book right now by cult-expert and clinical psychologist Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D called Crazy Therapies and I will be blogging more in the near future on the subject of unproven treatments in the field of psychology – many of which are associated with the New Age – and the harm these can do to unsuspecting patients.


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