Sound Advice: How to Help Your Child with SPD, Autism and ADHD from the Inside Out
Robin C. Abbott, MS, OTR/L
Loving Healing Press (2022)
Reviewed by Dawn Colclasure for Reader Views (03/2023)
Even though I am deaf, I chose this book to review because I was curious about the claim it espoused on how sound could help someone who was struggling with SPD, Autism, and ADHD. I was certainly intrigued! So I dove into the reading of this book in order to learn just what kind of therapeutic and healing benefits sound can play for someone in the neurodivergent spectrum.
The information was fascinating. Of course, I could not benefit from how sound itself – whether as the recording of a bird singing or as educationally-guided material to help children who could not or would not speak – would play a personal role in healing or as therapy, but I have personally known how sound, preferably music, had healing benefits. I lost my hearing when I was 13, but before then, I witnessed how instrumental music helped a cousin drift off to sleep at night, as well as how listening to favorite songs helped me to “calm down” whenever I got overexcited. Post-deafness, I witnessed how “music therapy” assisted individuals who had Intellectual/Developmental Disorders (I/DD), as well as offer a soothing release to individuals with ADHD. So, yes, absolutely, sound, as well as music, can play a healing role in certain individuals’ lives and help them overcome developmental hurdles.
A large portion of the first part of this book is devoted to the anatomical structures of the brain which sound can help repair and/or improving. It also describes the specifics of the therapy the author offers, one of which being “vestibular therapy.” This is a form of therapy focused on any impairments in the vestibular system which might affect the child’s ability to move or stay in one place (poor balance is also a factor of an affected vestibular system). The vestibular system is in the inner ears, and the author points out the essential roles they play in movement. She further notes, “Because of the brain’s surprising ability to re-wire itself, given the right input, I advocate that every neurodiverse child goes through a trial period of vestibular treatment.” (pg. 112)
Another form of therapy she uses is called “auditory therapy.” This is the kind of therapy involving sound and/or music. And while she is trained in using and implementing auditory therapy, she notes in the book, “Almost anyone can use auditory therapy to help children, be that person an occupational therapist, speech therapist, teacher, or parent – anyone can take classes and become certified in one of several different types of sound therapy.” (pg. 38) And while she has experienced many successful cases of using auditory therapy to help her clients, she does note that “there is no conclusive proof that the types of auditory therapy available actually work to correct the auditory-processing difficulties a child may be having. However, clinically, when I have used sound to address the difficulties a child is having, I often find that, not only do the specific deficits we are addressing improve, but the child’s comfort within the world, fluidity of movement and general level of happiness appear to improve.” (ppg. 90-1)
While the reading of the anatomy portion of the book was tedious, I felt it was a very beneficial part of the book to help readers understand just what areas of the brain are essential in good development of attention, motor skills and speech. In fact, one story included in this book highlights just how crucial it is to understand the brain’s role in certain developmental hurdles when the author, as a therapist for a three-year-old child, noted the child was crawling on the floor with her leg sticking out, foot planted on the floor during crawling. A previous therapist perceived this as a physical problem, putting ankle weights on the child’s extended leg in order to force her to crawl normally. This did not work. When Robin, as the child’s new therapist, began using her own sort of therapy, which included sound, the problem eventually resolved itself on its own. After certain connections in the brain were made, the child began crawling normally. This is just one of the astounding examples of how many so-called “physical” problems are actually problems inside of the brain. Once those problems are resolved, everything else falls into place. This was one of my favorite stories to read in the book; there are many others that I enjoyed reading as well.
Not all of her therapies include sound. Some of them include using items such as a net swing, an Astronaut Training board, and mobile rubber stepping stones. Her office does not strike one as a typical chaise lounge and chair, as seen in most therapist offices. Indeed, there is what looks like “playground equipment” in the rooms she works with children as well as teenagers. As she notes, “Vestibular therapy in my clinic looks a bit like an indoor playground.” (189) This is the perfect environment for her young clients and it definitely helped her to use her therapy techniques better.
As much as I learned from and enjoyed reading this book, there was one thing I didn’t like: the frequent use of animal studies to either support an argument or postulate a hypothesis related to her experience as a therapist working with children. While I understand that, in a clinical setting, results from animal studies are taken seriously and often used as a basis on whether or not something might “work,” I personally am against animal studies and do not perceive them as sufficient data to support a claim.
Despite this, however, I truly enjoyed this book and recommend it to parents everywhere, not just parents of neurodiverse children. Other stumbling blocks of child rearing, such as mealtime behaviors, echolalia, removing clothing and toe-walking, are also addressed. As the parent of two children who each fell into certain categories, I wished I had read this book when my kids were going through those stages! These days, with both kids equipped with diagnoses, medication and therapy, I am wiser to their unique traits and functions, but having the knowledge in this book related to such things certainly would have helped back then! But it’s not too late for everyone else, least of all the children and teens out there whose parents are at their wit’s end.
“Sound Advice” by Robin C. Abbott can help, as it can serve as a useful tool in promoting such therapeutic and healing techniques in more clinical settings.