Astronaut Training & Therapeutic Listening
In the documentary, Carly and Stef explore a variety of therapies in the area of sensory integration therapy, trying out both Therapeutic Listening and Astronaut Training with Oskar. Carly explains the theory behind both therapies:
“The play that infants do, that we all take for granted, isn’t done in vain, it has purpose. Exploring the different parts of their bodies, from their hands down to their toes, creates body awareness that will be built upon as they grow.”
Oskar, like many other young children with ASD, has motor planning issues due to a lack of body awareness, resulting in difficulty performing everyday tasks like walking and using utensils.
“Think if your route to work was constantly changing from day to day, maybe due to construction. It would take a lot more brain power to make sure you were going to end up at work, rather than a relaxing drive home on ‘autopilot.'”
Both astronaut training and therapeutic listening seek to strengthen a child’s neural pathways, allowing them to gain more control over their body.
Astronaut Training is an experimental therapy that aims to improve sensory integration through stimulation and exercise of the vestibular system. Often dysfunctional in people with autism, the vestibular system gives us the ability to feel and hear sound and motion and use it to understand our body in space and perform multiple related tasks. Both therapies target the inner ear, but whereas listening therapy does this with headphones and modified music, Astronaut Training involves putting the child on a large lazy susan-type board and rotating him/her at a certain RPM in various positions. By doing this, the therapist learns whether the child is over- or under-sensitive to motion (by examining eye movement after spinning), and then uses spinning to train the eyes/body for a more coordinated response to motion and visual stimulus. Also see: Sensory Integration
A note from Carly & Stef
We invited director Steve Suderman to share our story with the hope that our experience would offer comfort to other families facing similar experiences, and provide insight into life with a special needs child for those who aren’t familiar with the highs and lows of parenting on the spectrum.
This film portrays the beginning of our journey and our story is far from over. We hope that the film demonstrates that there is no single “correct” way to approach the task of supporting your child on their developmental path. We wanted to empower parents to do their own research, and make choices with the intention that they can help their child to thrive, regardless of their diagnosis. We think the film Steve made does this and this website has some additional videos and information for those who want to find out more about topics and therapies featured in the film.
For parents of children with autism the first year after diagnosis can be confusing and tiring. At times you might feel that you can never do enough research, the options are endless, and the developmental milestones can seem unattainable. The important thing to remember is that as parents it is our job to advocate, observe and use our gut instincts! It's not "one size fits all” and different therapies work for different children. Try therapies that your gut tells you might be a good fit for what you are seeing in your child, and maybe stop anything that doesn’t seem to work since you can always try again later. You know your child better than anyone else and you can trust that instinct.
Lastly, you don’t need to spend a lot of money. There are lots of free things in books or the internet that you can do or try at home. Don’t break the bank – listen to your gut!
Statement of Values
For a year director Steve Suderman followed Carly, Stef and their five children, as the family faced each challenge and joy that arose since their son Oskar’s autism diagnosis. Throughout the film Carly and Stef try a range of therapies and treatments; all out of love for their son and the desire to connect with him. The intent of the documentary is not to endorse or dissuade from any particular treatment. Rather, our hope is that the film will communicate the experience of a family touched by autism, something parents can share with family, caregivers, and friends to offer an insight into their world.
We believe that autism is a unique way of being in the world. We advocate for inclusion, respect, and increased services that make tangible differences in the lives of those on the spectrum - and their families. We hope that this collection of articles and videos from our team and other third-party sources will help provide a fuller picture of the treatments, therapies, and ideas explored in the film.
With research showing that most kids with autism have trouble processing sensed information, this experimental therapy targets hearing as the key to learning and behaviour. The inner ear, or vestibular system, enables us to make sense of sound and motion, influencing our balance, muscle tone, posture, coordination, motor skills, as well as emotional response. When the system functions abnormally, however, everyday sounds can seem like incoherent, overwhelming noise. Kids with autism therefore may seek isolation and act atypically. Therapeutic Listening (a trademarked auditory integration therapy) tries to retrain the ear to make more sense of sound. Using special headphones, the therapist provides music that’s been modified to filter and fluctuate the high and low frequencies. The resulting music would sound odd to most people, but it’s meant to be stimulating exercise. The promised benefits include increased attention span, emotional and social behaviour, and improved speech. Also see: Sensory Integration
Carly and Stef, the family featured in this film, maintain a blog called The Muddy Path. Please check it out to learn more about their experiences raising a family with children on the autism spectrum.
The Muddy Path: Astronaut Training & Therapeutic Listening
“I’m not sure exactly when I first learned of Listening therapy or Therapeutic Listening (the form we did in the documentary), but I know I came across it when researching Sensory Integration Therapy as well as the method explained in the book The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doige, M.D.”
In the process of making this film, we collected a lot of additional material we wanted to share. We hope you find it helpful.
Sensory Integration: Astronaut Training and Therapeutic Listening
Occupational therapist Elizabeth Bell discusses her practice of sensory integration theory, originally developed by Dr. A. Jean Ayres, which uses movement and play to help children with hyposensitivity issues. The therapy also uses music with a range of frequencies to trigger sensory responses in the child.
Temple Grandin: Approaching sensory processing problems in autism
Dr. Temple Grandin explains the various forms of sensory processing difficulties characteristic of children with autism, and suggests ways to help your child overcome these challenges.
Learn more about the people and ideas featured in the film.