The Tomatis approach

Tomatis

This therapy approach was developed by Dr Alfred Tomatis, an ENT specialist in the 50’s and 60’s. Tomatis observed that people with hearing damage caused by noise started developing motor, speech and psychological problems. Initially Tomatis worked with singers who had lost certain frequencies from their voices. He found that the dead spots in the voice exactly matched the dead spots on the audiogram, and by correcting the hearing with the electronic ear he could restore the missing frequencies to the voice. Tomatis concluded the following 3 laws:

  1. The voice is made up of what the ear can hear.
  2. If the hearing changes, the voice is immediately and unconsciously modified.
  3. It is possible to permanently transform phonation when auditive stimulation is maintained over a certain time. (the law of permanence)

It was believed by Tomatis that after birth, the ear’s role is to energise the neo-cortex of the brain, the area where the central nervous system is located. If there is malfunction of the ear, the nervous system will be hindered to process information, which could damage communication, expression and social behaviour. The inner ear may be an important relay for all sensory information that the body sends to the brain since touch, vision and hearing are all interpreted through the vestibular-cochlea system (the part of the inner ear concerned with balance and body orientation is the vestibular and the part concerned with hearing is the cochlea). Tomatis believed that the ear also plays a significant role in speech as it controls the voice.

Through its action on the vestibule, the Tomatis therapy has a beneficial effect on both gross and fine motor functions. To help integrate the various senses, the children will be asked to walk on the balance beam while listening to the sounds and music. Auditory stimuli is used to help children regulate and control their movements. Mozart’s music, the Gregorian chants and also mothers’ voice are used.   

The sounds are transmitted using a hearing apparatus with ear and bone conduction. In sound conduction, the sounds are transmitted using headphone and in bone conduction, the sounds are transmitted by a piece at the top of the head. In bone conduction, the sounds travel 20x faster than ear conduction. “As humans, we always hear and listen through both bone and air conduction when listening to ourselves and only air conduction when listening to others. If the sound is travelling via bone conduction, the message is transmitted via the head bone through a vibrator, located in the frame of the headphone and rests on the middle on top of the person’s head, carrying the sound directly to the inner ear”. (“Tomatis® Sound Therapy”, 2017) The auditory stimuli reaches the brain first through bone conduction and surprises the brain before it reaches through the ears. In this surprise, the attention mechanism in the brain is triggered and now becomes alert to anticipate the auditory signal which is to later come from the ears.  

The ear and the brain are intricately connected and as the ear expands its functions so the brain expands its capabilities and states of awareness. The ear is connected to 7 of the 12 cranial nerves. Through auditory pathways the ear affects the entire nervous system. Stimulation of the tiny inner ear muscles helps to build stronger multi-sensory pathways in the brain, improving its ability to process sound and enhance communication and cognitive abilities.

In the musical pieces used in Tomatis therapy, musical contrasts in terms of timbre and intensity are suddenly and quickly alternated. Ear muscles are subjected to constant inner gymnastics. The whole auditory system is stimulated by these changes. High frequency sounds from the cochlea stimulates the brain and its neurons more than the low frequency sounds.  

Tomatis believed that the high frequency sounds in the range of 8,000 to 16,000 Hz will have a positive effect on the central nervous system and individuals will feel more energised, able to concentrate better, learn better and feel calmer at the same time. Low-frequency sounds have the opposite effects. This has implications for a wide range of brain disorders from depression to epilepsy,

The Tomatis method has been found to be very helpful for autistic individuals due to their high sensitivity to sounds. Autistic individuals are not able to process the auditory signals well, they often have to cover their ears to cut themselves off from the world as a form of protection.  According to Pierre Sollier, Director at the Tomatis Mozart Center in California, “about 60% of autistic children seem to respond positively to it”. (“The Tomatis Method – Henry Spink Foundation”, 2017)

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