Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Valerie Dejean on Tomatis

Valerie DeJean with Katherine Black, Tracy Merslich and Meera Sankar

On Wednesday, May 27, 2009, Valerie Dejean, who practiced occupational therapy for many years and now is a Tomatis consultant and the founder of the Spectrum Center, spoke to our group about attention, behavior and communication.

Dr. Tomatis was a French Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist, who pioneered the listening therapy named after him. Valerie Dejean was trained by Dr. Tomatis himself and her centers have provided Tomatis listening therapy to over 4000 children, with much success. The presentation titled “Attention, Behavior and Communication” was more about the impact of listening on the behavior and not as much on the nuts and bolts of the “Tomatis Therapy”.

Valerie started by defining “developmental” as something that happens during the early years of life and “pervasive” as something that affects the whole body, physically and mentally. Children develop their ability to communicate by listening, watching and then imitating the adults and other children around them. However, children with autism often are impeded by language processing difficulties that leads to problems with communication, social interaction, imaginative play, and behavior.

Valerie described our brains as more “programmed” than “hardwired” -- so that, beyond some basic functions, we learn skills through imitation. If a child lacks or has limited imitative capacity, learning is impacted. Children with autism frequently are dyspraxic, in other words, they have deficits in motor planning, which can affect many areas of function, including listening, imitation, and ,hence, language development. She went on to explain that language is merely symbols that help us communicate. Symbols are then related to ideas and thoughts. She gave an example of the word “ball”. We know that the symbols (letters) B-A-L-L means that it is something that is round, can roll on the ground and can bounce. Though a child with autism may be able to spell the word “ball” he or she may not be able to connect that word with the concept of what the ball can do and hence may not understand that if it is thrown on the ground, it will roll towards another child.

In addition, if our sensory system is faulty we cannot properly take in information from our environment. According to Valerie, Tomatis helps develop the ability to use our awareness to control our actions and to more appropriately and effectively use information from our environment. She also described the way in which Tomatis can reawaken neural networks and get them working -- to re-educate the auditory system to develop the ability to focus our attention and thus develop “event perception” -- an ability to, among other things, effectively understand and organize information from our environment.

Hearing is different from listening, Valerie said. We hear lots of things simultaneously when we are on the street or when many people are talking. However we listen ( purposefully) to one or a few voices in order to analyze and understand what we are hearing. We have the ability to ignore the background sounds. Some of the children with autism disorders have difficulty with this process. Tomatis programs, she said improves the listening abilities of these children and in doing so, improves their ability to interact and communicate.

Khalid Rehman, MD
Kim Mack Rosenberg

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