Listening, The Ear & Development:
The Work of Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis
By Don Campbell
During the last half of the twentieth century, Alfred A. Tomatis, a French
M.D., researcher and philosopher, defined the ear as a primary organ
for multiple physical, emotional and neurological development responses.
Not only is the ear and its complex ability to send information to the brain and the body
primary for hearing and sound perception, it establishes balance and equilibrium. It is also
primary for the development of verticality, spatiality, laterality and language development.
Tomatis's innovative research is based on the ear's ability to discriminate between sounds it
selects to hear and the ability to tune out sounds that are unwanted. The ear's ability to
listen and focus, select sounds spatially and regulate auditory information as it is
perceived by the brain, has become the theme in over a hundred centers
worldwide dedicated to assist children and adults with speech and
communication disorders, attention deficit disorders, head injuries, and autism.
The listening process beings in utero when the fetus becomes aware of sound and
frequencies in the liquid world of the heartbeat, breath and sound of the mother's voice. In La
Nuit Uterine (Edition Stock, Paris, 1980), Tomatis explores in depth clinical observations on
the state of intrauterine listening. He defines the phylogenic and ontogenetic progression of
the ear and its neurological implications for the development of language.
Dr. Tomatis proved that the voice can reflect the state of the ear's ability to hear, a
phenomenon know as the Tomatis Effect. When the perception of midrange and high
frequencies is missing in the prenatal and the first three years of life, difficulties in listening
and learning often arise. Without any obvious traces in deafness, a deficient ability
to hear frequencies below 1000Hz can cause difficulty in understanding and
remembering spoken information. A listening test for each ear was developed by Dr.
Tomatis to show specific areas where frequency deficiencies occur. Defective variations in
frequencies between 1000Hz and 2000Hz make it difficult to sing in tune. When there are
difficulties above 2000Hz, the voice will be dull and not expressive.
Generally, a healthy adult can hear up to the 20,000Hz range, giving a bright and clear ability
to distinguish sounds. When there is a loss in the high frequencies, it is necessary to strain.
The ability to focus upon and select sounds or voices in a noisy room is one of the primary
challenges of those with listening disabilities.
The following chart created by Timothy Gilmore from the "Overview of the Tomatis Method"
by Gilmore, Madaule, and Thompson, 1989) shows the essential role of the ear.
Identification of a Listening Problem In Children
At the level of receptive oral language, the following can be
considered symptomatic of a listening problem:
A need to have instructions repeated
Distractibility, restlessness, daydreaming, poor attention and concentration in
A tendency to misinterpret what is being said, which produces odd reactions and
impedes communication with others
Difficulty with following and/or participating in conversations in a noisy
At the level of body awareness or body image,
the following can be observed:
Poor balance or coordination
Difficulty coordinating body movement
Clumsiness or awkwardness in body movement
Excessive body movement when speaking or listening (fidgety)
Poor posture: overly tense and rigid (hyper tonic) or insufficient tonicity
Mixed lateral dominance, letter and word reversals, signs of fine motor or gross
motor coordination such as poor handwriting
Poor organization and planning skills
The tendency to withdraw or avoid communication in learning situations and/or
A lack of curiosity or interest in learning
Lack of interest in oral communication and, in extreme instances, avoidance or
active refusal to use language as the medium through which to communicate
At the level of spoken Language, individuals with
listening-based communication problems are frequently
seen to have very poor audio-vocal control or self-listening.
Such symptoms include:
Slow, hesitant, poorly articulated speech
A poorly modulated voice (too soft or too loud)
A poor voice, characterized by a dull, monotonic tone, and fluency
For adults, difficulty in sustaining the interest of a group while making a speech
In compiling clinical histories at listening centers using the
Tomatis method, the following events have had an
unusually high incidence among individuals with
listening-based learning and communication problems:
Difficult circumstances surrounding their own birth
Difficult births or early separation from the mother as a result of illness or
Recurring ear infections in the first years of life
The arrival of a younger sibling within two years of birth
Slow or poorly established preference for right or left hand
Delay in language development and, less frequently, in motor development
Difficult adjustment to school life and the recognition of problems by the teacher
or by the parent within the first two years of school
Underachievement at school or on the job
Listening integrates sensations and perceptions.
The complexity of multiple roles of the ear is difficult to measure because of the ear's
simultaneous regulation of information it receives from bone and air conduction in regard to
both cochlear and vestibular functions.
A complete overview of the theory and clinical work of Dr. Tomatis is given in Perspectives of
Listening, part of the Communication and Information Science Series under the editorship of
Brenda Dervin at Ohio State University. Billie Thompson,Ph.D. has prepared a
comprehensive chapter, "Listening Disabilities: The Plight of Many" in this book. (Ablex
Publishing, Norwood, New Jersey, 1993)
In the late 1950's and 1960's Dr. Tomatis developed the Electronic Ear, a device for
training the ear for optimal listening. With the information has been assessed from the
listening test, the speaking voice, chant and the music of Mozart is then filtered through the
It is then possible to exercise and literally train the ear to listen more efficiently.
Programs range from fifty to two hundred hours of auditory stimulation over a period of a
few months through both air and bone conduction. This process is monitored by a specialist
to observe the progress of the ear's ability to become a better receptor for more subtle
discriminations in linguistic, musical and emotional response. There are passive phases of
listening when drawing, resting and working with puzzles assist the listening process. In more
active phases of reading aloud and chanting, the Electronic Ear filters and gates sounds so
that the ear receives optimal stimulation at the most needed frequencies.
Tomatis was keenly aware that every language has a particular frequency range and accents
at certain points. By stimulating the unique frequency ranges through music and
vocal participation, the foreign tongue becomes familiar to those studying the
language. A richer, more melodious expression of the new language becomes evident as
study and the Electronic Ear stimulation work together for ease of the learner.
Medical research for the Electronic Ear is beginning in Europe and Central America. The
State of Washington now supports a Tomatis program for those on welfare. The research and
work of Tomatis is evident throughout the world .
Born on Christmas Day, 1920, Dr. Tomatis passed away in Carcassonne,
France, on Christmas Day, 2001. Over a hundred and fifty centers in fifteen
countries are continuing the research with the power of music, Mozart and the
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