Imagine sitting in a classroom and hearing your teacher’s voice at the same level of importance as someone sneezing and a bird chirping outside — simultaneously. Imagine being fearful of school because the sound of the air brakes on the school bus and a potential fire drill are unbearable. Imagine having your name called a half dozen times and not responding to it. When you do finally answer, you can’t understand why the caller is so aggravated with you.

These scenarios describe what it is like to have an auditory processing disorder. Some children are sensitive to sounds (hyperresponsive to auditory stimulus) and some children ignore sounds (hypo-responsive to auditory stimuli). Others have difficulty filtering sounds and hear all sounds at once. Many people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have to deal with these auditory issues 24/7. In a world where one out of 88 people is affected by autism, there are a multitude of interventions to manage each and every symptom. To manage the auditory aspects, listening therapy may assist with retraining the brain to process sounds.

Listening therapy combines electronically altered compact discs — which vary in musical style, sound quality, and level of enhancement — within a sensory integration frame of reference. Sensory integration recognizes that there are three steps to functioning: sensory input, or taking cues from our environment all at once through the senses; processing input, in which we understand the stimulations and store the experience; and producing an adaptive response, like answering a question or speaking at the correct volume. Listening therapy programs are individualized to address each child’s specific issues. The music, listening time, and type of modulation used vary.

The accompanying individualized activity program fluctuates, too. A child may be asked to sit on a moving swing and toss a bean bag into a bucket, repeat a list of directions next to an open window that lets in outside noises, pick plastics letters out of putty to stimulate hand strength, or countless other activities. A child may also be very active while listening to CDs, working on suspended equipment and 3-D surfaces that challenge postural organization, motor planning, and higher level sensory integration skills. The use of sound and music is so intimately connected to movement that children in listening programs are often compelled to move and explore the environment in new ways.

Current clinical work suggests that listening therapy decreases the time necessary to meet treatment goals. When incorporated into a sensory integrative treatment approach, changes are typically observed in: attention, organization of behavior, self-regulation, timing, development, refinement, articulation, fine motor skills, and more. Since many of these skills support communication, improvements are seen in many components of communication, too. Children may obtain a greater range of nonverbal communication, greater emotional and verbal expression, and improvements in pragmatic language.

A typical, home-based listening program lasts for 30-minute intervals, two times a day, for two through 16 weeks. The time frame between daily listening sessions is about three hours. The basic equipment needed includes a CD player, special headphones, and CDs. The CDs for each individually designed listening program are obtained from a trained and qualified provider, who usually stocks a library of them for clients to borrow.