“Daniel, sit up! Didn’t you hear me? Your glass of milk is about to spill. Wait! Don’t set it down on the edge of the napkin, that won’t be safe, either.” Later, I would blame myself for having made the dinner time less pleasant than it might have been. Of course, Daniel could hear. He could hear a pin drop three rooms away. That did not mean I could get his attention the way I could get the attention of his brothers and sisters—or that he could respond the way they did when it came to tasks like cleaning up  his room. I tested his hearing myself, then had it tested again through the school. Nothing wrong there, we were told. He wasn’t a “bad” child; he was affectionate, expressive, humorous, especially kind to the pets, intelligent with a prodigious memory; and he tried very hard to do some things.

I recognized other behaviors as dyslexic long before he began school: his confusion of letters, lack of interest in learning to read—although he loved to be read to—and his awkward motor control. At school, all the classic symptoms of dyslexia appeared on schedule. Tests with exceptional highs and lows; supported learning; problems with a few teachers but never with his friends; compensatory behaviors; counselling; meetings; intensive reading one-on-one; growing frustration; growing confusion. Why? How are we failing? Does anyone have any idea how to fix this?

Dr. Alfred Tomatis was fascinated by the way the behavior of his patients changed when their ears were exposed to filtered, high-frequency sound. He began his career treating ears with specific frequencies of sound to correct professional singers’ voices. He observed that the singers with the best voices are right-lateralized and he used filtered music to enhance that “leading ear” (the right ear is dominant in most people) making the person “more right-lateralized.” He thought the resulting changes in the singer’s posture, self-confidence, and energy were “psychological” as well as physical. His book for singers and those who intend to train singers analyzes the separate parts of the middle and inner ear for their particular contributions to vocal production and he describes the parts of the brain involved in singing. In the course of his research and medical practice he made a remarkable scientific discovery: the voice (larynx) can produce only the frequencies (harmonics) likely to be heard by the ear. The ear controls the voice or, as he liked to say, “We sing with our ears.” Proof of his discovery, The Tomatis Effect, was recognized by the French Academy of Medicine (1957).

Then, Tomatis noticed that his techniques for improving the singing voice applied also to spoken language: those who lisped or stuttered or garbled words or felt often at a loss for words. He had expanded his attention and his practice from the singing voice to spoken language and some of the symptoms of dyslexia. The other problems in writing language and reading language that characterize dyslexia soon caught his attention because “retraining” the ear affects behaviors that seem remote from the voice. He wrote about those neurological relationships in The Ear and Language.

By then, extremes of behavior had become his next frontier; he was convinced that infantile schizophrenia must also be related to the “listening” ability of the ear. He could prove that sound stimulation changed such extreme behavior in autistic children, but he listened to the theories of his colleagues in psychiatry who came up with an odious explanation of autism, blaming the mother. His colleague, Dr. Guy Bérard, was so disgusted he left their collaboration to gain his own medical specialty in otolaryngology, then continued with similar success to treat a widening range of behaviors. Bérard wrote a slim book called Hearing Equals Behavior, which extends the frontier of knowledge about the ears’ influence on behavior to suicidal depression. He describes a characteristic profile of audio-processing deficits in either ear but especially the left causing depression; he cured almost all of his patients applying his version of the Tomatis Method of ear stimulation.

I knew nothing of Bérard’s work or his connection with Tomatis when I wrote my book about Daniel. In fact, it was only in the last stages of my writing that I obtained Tomatis’s books and was able to revise my neurological explanation from his anatomical teaching. Many factors isolating us in our care of Daniel contrived to create a “laboratory setting” for my learning. Although we viewed our family of seven in the perspective of our beliefs and the usual “psychological” interpretations of behavior, Daniel—and other people having extreme experiences—kept me open, seeking, and on edge about inadequacies in my knowledge and beliefs. Too many things seemed to be going badly wrong.  Yet, some people seemed to think that, as parents go, we were doing a pretty good job. It didn’t feel like that to me. Although we were in tough social circumstances by North American standards, how many of the problems coming home to roost could be blamed on the social order? Lots. But I had to keep looking for better solutions to the extreme behaviors of those around me.

When Daniel’s alternating cerebral dominance became clear to me, most of those questions about inadequacies in my knowledge base, including my religious beliefs, were answered. I had found the piece of the puzzle Tomatis had been missing in the “flip-flopping” lateralization he had dismissed. Some people are physiologically incapable of normal behavior. Now I knew why. Their problems are not “psychological” but neurological, beginning with their ears. And, thanks to the Tomatis Method we had experienced, I had an idea of how they might be treated!

The health of the middle and inner ear is essential to normal behaviour. The spectrum of human behaviour, including so-called “mental” illnesses, is generated in the ear.

You can buy Listening for the Light to learn more about the neurological relationship between the ear and the brain that allows high-frequency music to heal dyslexia, schizophrenia, bipolarity, chronic fatigue syndrome,  substance abuse, and other behaviors related to diminished or lost left-brain dominance.

One Response to Blame?

  1. I need to send this piece to my daughter who is a speech pathologist.
    By the way, Laurna, you write extremely well.

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