What Is Therapeutic Listening?

Marjorie McAtee

Therapeutic listening is a type of music therapy intended to help children with sensory processing disorder, and a host of other disorders, including autism, learning disabilities, Down syndrome, and ADD/ADHD. The therapy generally involves listening to music through headphones, both at home and at school. Therapeutic listening sessions usually last from half and hour to 45 minutes, and are usually undertaken about twice daily. Evaluative sessions are normally required every three weeks or so, and the typical course of therapeutic listening lasts for about three months. This type of therapy is said to help improve coordination, communication, motor control, bodily functions, social skills, and organization.

Therapeutic listening may help improve handwriting.
Therapeutic listening may help improve handwriting.

Children with disorders such as autism, ADHD or sensory processing disorder often have problems perceiving and understanding both internal and external sensory information. As a result, children may have problems regulating bodily functions, communicating, moving through the environment, paying attention, and concentrating. They may lack good social skills. Expressing emotions, or perceiving and understanding the emotions of others, may also prove difficult for them. Therapeutic listening seeks to solve these problems by regularly exposing children to music, and encouraging them to perform various physical and mental tasks while doing so.

Music therapy can be used to help strengthen a child's fine motor skills.
Music therapy can be used to help strengthen a child's fine motor skills.

Experts believe that music therapy can have a range of benefits for children suffering from sensory processing and other types of disorders that affect brain function and concentration. Many children have been found to sleep better and exercise more control over bodily functions after music therapy of this nature. They will typically display tighter hand-eye coordination and finer motor skills. Balance and posture is said to improve, as does handwriting, speech, and emotional expressiveness. Children generally feel more relaxed after undergoing this type of music therapy, and are better able to exercise the social skills necessary to form relationships and bond with parents and caregivers.

Someone with ADD who struggles with focusing may need therapeutic listening.
Someone with ADD who struggles with focusing may need therapeutic listening.

Tasks considered central to therapeutic listening can include exercises, drawing, and building with blocks. Therapists typically choose specialized music intended to relax the child and stimulate whole brain function. It is believed that the music used during therapeutic listening helps children concentrate and learn more effectively. It may help support function of the inner ear structures that regulate balance and coordination. This music may help children better perceive sounds and emotions, and may help to stimulate parts of the brain responsible for oral communication and body language.

Some people -- including those with autism -- have auditory processing disorders that can affect how they perceive sounds.
Some people -- including those with autism -- have auditory processing disorders that can affect how they perceive sounds.

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