Parents and teachers of children with autism will tell you how hard it is when they call a child’s name and they don’t respond. This most basic social interaction is often a challenge for children on the autism spectrum and in turn, more complex social exchanges seem hopeless.
“I’m less worried about his academic skills. I want him to be able to be in a room with people and like being there,” said one parent of a child with autism. “I want people to like having him there.”
With social and attention deficits being a main challenge for families raising children with autism, this desire for engagement is common. Parents have been seeking therapies to increase attention and interaction for years. One treatment continues to remain a part of the conversation today.
Auditory integration training, or AIT, was developed in the 1950s by Dr. Guy Berard, an otolaryngologist, in Annecy, France. Initially it was designed to improve hearing loss or other hearing impairments. Berard felt that disorders such as autism and attention deficit disorder could be improved using the AIT since he considered that hearing imbalances and poor auditory processing skills were a contributing factor to academic, social, and behavioral challenges.
The most popular model of the AIT method is the Berard even though others exist. Berard developed the AudioKinetron and the Earducator, devices that deliver music at specific frequencies through headphones. The regimen includes two, 30-minute sessions, three hours apart each day over the course of 10 days. A one- or two-day break may be taken after the first five days. Candidates must be at least 3 years of age and may have a diagnosis of autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), ADHD, central auditory processing disorder, or other learning disabilities or processing disorders.
The programs are monitored and assessed to make necessary adjustments as needed with the audio tests being administered before during and after each treatment.
The theory of AIT in individuals with autism, with the goal of improving auditory distortions, delays or sensitivities, is if processing functions better, an individual will be able to sustain increased attention, which in turn allows greater opportunity for awareness, comprehension and engagement.
A 1994 study by Bernard Rimland and Stephen Edelson evaluated the affect of AIT on 445 adults and children with autism. Though the researchers did not see a difference in the results of auditory tests between subjects, many parents reported a decrease in problem behaviors after AIT intervention.
Although studies have been done, there is not enough evidence to show that AIT definitively increases attention, focus, and interaction in individuals with autism say critics of this intervention. The Autism Speaks website also cites this lack of sufficient documentation under its 100 Day Kit for parents of newly-diagnosed children.
Parents of children with autism continue to support their child’s social and emotional growth as a key component to their success. Using Auditory integration training may be one way to do just that, even though critics come up empty handed on progress about this treatment .