"God Gave Us Ears To Hear" - Submittted 11/15/99 to the IAHE Informer for the January/February, 2000 Issue By Marcia B. Blackwood Phone (317) 375-1775 email firstname.lastname@example.org
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 learning.
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 of sound.
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 to Marciablackwood@juno.com.
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.net. She has been homeschooling for 15 years.
April 18th, 2019