"Challenges and Changes"
Submittted11/15/99 to the IAHE Informer for
the January/February, 2000 Issue By Marcia B. Blackwood
Phone (317) 375-1775 email firstname.lastname@example.org
God Gave Us "Ears To Hear"
I continually marvel at the tremendously intricate way the body and all
its systems work in such perfect harmony. It is so fascinating to see
the interdependency of all the parts, just as described in Romans 12:4,5.
And God in His wisdom has allowed a vast majority of people to be born
into this world benefiting from all those systems working together quite
well. It is those precious few that come into the world with some part
of their systems out of sync with the rest, that develop problems with
The sensory system of the body is that system that brings a great deal
of input to the brain. It includes the senses of touch, smell, sight,
taste, and hearing. I would like to share with you some of the things
I have discovered that make significant challenges to learning in the
area of hearing.
As a baby, your child has a startle reflex. The auditory pathways to the
brain are laid down or developed by hearing sounds in their environment,
especially during the first and second year of life. As we wait for the
physical maturation of the ears (i.e. the Eustachian tubes lengthening
and moving from a horizontal position to slanting downward to increase
the natural drainage), one of the most common detriments to good hearing
is fluid behind the eardrums.
For many children this will be a result of an ear infection or precipitate
an ear infection. There does not have to be an infection to have fluid
accumulate in the ear and not drain away properly. Regardless of its relationship
to infection fluid behind the ear drum prevents the ear drum from moving
or vibrating so the child hears very little, or hears with a lot of distortion.
An infection's presence only acerbates the problem and increases the severity
of hearing distortions or lack of hearing.
Many parents are not concerned with a simple ear infection, but when the
infections become chronic, they may set into motion a vicious cycle of
events in the child's auditory/speech/learning modes. An ear infection
can bring about fluid in the ear and congestion that may result in sinus
infections. One will usually breath through his mouth during this distress,
and this is not an efficient way to breathe-very short and shallow breaths.
There is not enough air/oxygen intake to enter the bloodstream which affects
both brain and muscle function. With his mouth open, air passes over the
tongue and tends to thicken and desensitize the tongue so it doesn't work
as it should to articulate. Muscle tone of the lips does not develop as
it should, and further affects the articulation. Air passing over dries
and inflames gum tissue. Mouth breathing delays the development of sinus
cavities. Lack of development of the entire facial structure affects the
phonation and resonation of the child's voice. Further complications may
include increased pressure on the inner ear that throws off the vestibular
system which plays a huge role in one's balance mechanism. Children with
poor balance are slow to develop physical function-walking late, etc.
The vestibular system also helps to direct the muscles of the eye so the
child may have convergence problems. These problems can be so severe that
children are receiving the label of "developmental delay." This is when
the professionals cannot identify the cause for a child to be functioning
at much lower levels than other children of the same age. Typically the
source is chronic ear infections.
A tympanogram is a very valuable (yet seldom used) device that many pediatric
clinics have gathering dust in the back room. It is a noninvasive test
that takes about ½ second and will show conclusively whether there is
fluid in the ear. Often a nurse or PA can administer the test and give
you the results without taking the doctor's time. Tympanograms should
be very inexpensive and for children with chronic problems, they should
be administered frequently (some need to check as often as once a month
until they have established a period of time without fluid).
When I look at a client's history of ear infections, tubes in the ears
or sinus congestion, I also look at the quality of the hearing and ability
to listen, and possible distortions. The child may not hear clearly and
experience problems isolating one sound from background noises. This child
may be able to attend well at home in a quiet environment, but in a noisy
classroom, playground, or public place, the behavior and ability to discriminate
sounds deteriorates. This individual may have very sensitive hearing so
that the slightest noise distracts him and therefore brings on demands
for quiet when trying to concentrate.
Often parents will have an audiogram done when they suspect their child
has a hearing problem. An audiogram will give you certain information.
It will tell you the threshold hearing levels and whether there is a hearing
loss in one or both ears. You may have an audiogram that shows your child's
hearing is fine. If you still suspect a problem, what do you do then?
Listening is an active process and requires good tonal processing. Research
has shown that the ability to distinguish between sounds and process those
sounds can be poor even if the audiogram looks good. There may be frequencies
in which a person processes very little information, frequencies to which
the person is so sensitive that the brain shuts down the offensive input,
and frequencies in which the sounds are distorted or cannot be distinguished
from the background noiseeverything is equally loud or a confusing buzz
I believe that many children that are labeled ADD or ADHD have VERY distorted
hearing. I suspect that up to 70% of the children on Ritalin are on it
for this specific reason. I see many children that are hyperauditory-extremely
sensitive to certain sounds, puts his hands over his ears when others
don't, has behavior breakdowns in noisy environments, can't get to sleep
when the washing machine is running at the other end of the house, can
hear whispered conversations from a long distance, etc. A child that is
EXTREMELY hyperauditory is often labeled "autistic." To them
sounds are a roar-similar to trying to listen to 3-4 radio stations at
the same time, with the volumes turned up to the maximum. Many of these
children don't talk or communicate. They also develop sensory play-making
repetitive sounds, banging on things, drowning out noises with music,
or in desperation, the brain shuts out the hurtful sounds. The sensory
input is so bad the output is absent. The good news is that if we can
fix the hearing, these children learn to talk.
There is speculation that hearing quality affects the moods and behavior
of individuals. Dr. Tomatis, the pioneer French ENT that started the works
on re training hearing, speculated that hearing affects the whole central
nervous system. He states that because hearing is so primary (being the
first sense developed by the infant in the uterus). and because it is
so intimately tied to the entire central nervous system in 5 major areas,
that the quality of hearing affects the well-being of the individual.
It is also possible that many "psychological" problems are a consequence
of distorted hearing.
I cannot urge you enough to get good ear and audiometric exams. Make use
of those neglected tympanogram machines, investigate good sound therapies
that can desensitize or stimulate tonal processing, and stay alert to
your child's hearing-remember you are the expert on your child. Follow
up on your instincts if you suspect hearing problems.
Please call for information on a new,
inexpensive, homebased sound therapy that uses classical music and nature
sounds to normalize hearing and tonal processing. (317) 375-1775 or write
Marcia Blackwood, M.Ed. has been working as a neurodevelopmentalist with
Neuroeducational Consultants of Indiana, 2320 Sloan Avenue, Indianapolis,
IN 46203-4850. She is a founding member of ICAN, The International Christian
Association of Neurodevelopmentalists at www.ican-do.com. She has been
homeschooling for 15 years.
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