Elliott was always an active toddler. He seemed to be in constant motion and would never sit still. In fact, we would often have to hold his legs still so that he could fall asleep. He also didn’t respond when we spoke to him by name. For example, if we asked him to shut the fridge door, he just wouldn’t hear us. It seemed like we hadn’t even spoken to him. Prior to preschool, he spent much of the day playing in his head, and tuned out the world around him. By the age of 4 we were concerned about his limited use of language and began seeking support from a speech therapist. When he first started preschool, it was apparent that he was having difficulty following along with the class activities. For instance, he would not sit down during story time, he often tried to run away from the class, and he did not engage much with the other children. Elliott was very anxious about attending school. At this time, we took Elliott for his first set of psychological tests, which came back with a diagnosis of autism. Elliott was moved to a program for special needs children, where he remained for two years.
We were not convinced that Elliott’s condition was a cognitive disability, however, and eventually brought Elliott for a private psychological assessment. This assessment revealed that Elliott was not cognitively disabled, but suffered from ADHD. This allowed us to have Elliott moved back into a regular classroom. The psychologist asked us to follow-up our session with testing from an audiologist. At the age of 8, Elliott was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder and misophonia, which is characterized by involuntary reactions to particular trigger noises, such as children crying. We began to have a clearer sense of Elliott’s challenges.
Through various programs with Elliott’s audiologist, we were able to bring Elliott’s hearing back into a normal range and to desensitize him to some of his trigger noises. However, Elliott continued to have high anxiety, particularly at school, where he struggled to be a part of regular classroom activities. Elliott had trouble sitting in his desk, often played in his head during class time, and was almost unable to complete any work at school. While he was able to hold his own in mathematics, he struggled with reading and had difficulty with subjects that required abstract concepts and sustained attention. Additionally, he had difficulty regulating his emotions and had frequent meltdowns at school, which resulted in trips to the principal’s office on a fairly regular basis. His teachers often commented on Elliott’s inflexible means of thinking. Most of Elliott’s learning at this time was done at home, based on whatever we were able to teach Elliott from homework. While we were able to help Elliott with his school work at home, we also encountered inflexible thinking, frequent meltdowns, and increased anxiety from Elliott. This went on for 3 years.
When Elliott was 11 years old, we happened to watch a documentary on The Nature of Things titled “The Brain’s Way of Healing”, which featured a section on The Listening Centre. As we watched, we noticed that the children being treated at the Centre really reminded us of Elliott. We decided that we needed to know more about the program. Eventually, we found ourselves living in Toronto for two months so that Elliott could complete the two initial sessions at The Listening Centre. We were not sure what to expect and felt like we had taken a leap of faith. We had tried many therapies and interventions with Elliott up to this point, with limited success. We hoped that this experience would help Elliott.
It was not long after beginning sessions at The Listening Centre that we began to notice subtle changes in Elliott’s behavior. He began to take a more active interest in the world around him, noticing landmarks in his environment, such as the CN Tower. He had never expressed much interest in towers or buildings before. Certainly, architecture had never captured his attention. He was able to sit through an entire musical production without noticeable anxiety. When the first session ended, we began to see more noticeable changes in Elliott’s interactions. He began hearing information that was shared with the group, instead of just “tuning in” when the auditory information was directed to him specifically. He began to regulate his emotions much more quickly and with less extreme behavior when his misophonia triggers were present. He began to show interest in playing with his sister and cousins in more spontaneous play. He also became very concerned about keeping track of his personal belongings, and would frequently check with his mother about the location of items such as sunglasses and his hat. In addition, his interest in music seemed to mature, showing a sudden desire to listen to vocal music by The King’s Singers, an acappella music ensemble of high quality. In fact, he appointed himself the “DJ” in the van and played music tracks to entertain the family on our excursions in Ontario.
By the end of our second session, Elliott was noticeably less anxious, and seemed happier and more confident. His language use and word choice blossomed as if overnight. Relatives began to comment on how much more relaxed he seemed, and how much more communicative he was becoming. He began to show interest in more age appropriate reading material. When Elliott began school in the fall, he was able to regulate his emotions so well on his own that he has yet to visit the principal’s office. We were thrilled with these developments.
We know that there is still work to do with Elliott, but we are convinced that our experience with The Listening Centre is helping Elliott manage his emotions, listen to auditory information, and engage in the world around him. He is a much happier, less anxious child, and is beginning to engage more readily with people and events around him. We tried many different programs with Elliott, and nothing resulted in the number of positive changes as our experiences with The Listening Centre. We are looking forward to continuing Elliott’s journey with the friendly and cooperative staff, and we encourage other parents to consider trying listening therapy.