A ground breaking, educational research study being carried out by Rosemary Murphy, Director of The Developmental Learning Centre has yielded its first results. The study’s aim was to explore the effectiveness of sound therapy on children with learning difficulties. In particular Mrs Murphy was interested in exploring the effect of sound therapy on literacy as the most significant learning category.

Mrs Murphy began the study last year with the support and cooperation of Greenpark School, Tauranga. 24 children were selected by teachers because of their learning difficulties, which included persistent difficulties in reading, writing and spelling, as well as some behavioural issues related to poor listening such as restlessness, distractibility, dreaminess, forgetting instructions, frequently requiring repetition, poor short term memory and difficulty keeping up in class.

Listening Therapy Research New Zealand Study

The first 12 children were placed in the sound therapy programme, listening to specially filtered high quality classical music for ½ hour per day over a period of 2 terms (20 weeks). It included a movement programme which was performed during the first part of each listening therapy session. This results in several other senses being used at the same time as listening, such as vision, balance, proprioception and touch, These activities have been shown to increase the effectiveness of the sound therapy.

A further 12 similar children, matched for difficulty, age and gender were also selected and these were used as a control group. These children did not receive any sound therapy but continued in all of the usual support programmes offered to them by the school. All 24 children were tested prior to beginning the study for reading and spelling ages, and a number of auditory processing skills such as auditory memory, discrimination between similar sounding words and the ability to hear correctly what a speaker is saying when there is background noise in the classroom. A listening behaviours checklist was filled out by the teachers for each child before the study began and then again afterwards.

Listening Therapy Results 

The results so far have been very exciting. In reading ability age the sound therapy group increased their reading age by an average of 25 months, while the control group increased by only 6 months (the length of time of the programme) – over four times the improvement of the control group. Spelling levels in the sound therapy group increased by an average of 11 months while the control group improved by an average of only 7 months.

The ability to hear accurately what a speaker is saying when there is background noise (Auditory Figure Ground) showed an average improvement of 18 percentile points in the sound therapy group , compared to a 7 percentile improvement in the control group. Listening difficultly symptom scores as observed by the teachers before and after the 6 month period also show significant improvement in the sound therapy group in all areas assessed including improved motor skills, balance and coordination, receptive language and listening behaviours, social and emotional behaviours and academic and cognitive performance.

The 12 children who were in the control group have not missed out on the therapy. They are now receiving it over the first two terms of this school year.

Because of these exciting results Mrs Murphy is keen to widen the scope of the study to include a much larger group of similar students from other schools. A number of rolling studies set up in schools could provide much more data. The larger numbers will make the final results much more significant and more acceptable in the academic and educational communities in Australia and New Zealand.

Though research has been conducted overseas, sound therapy research has never been done in NZ or Australia. Rosemary believes that the results will have a far reaching effect on the academic performances of hundreds of NZ children.

The future of the Listening Therapy research study

The final results of this study are to be presented to the Ministry of Education, which is currently entering into public consultation on their stated policy to introduce and achieve formalised standards of learning across all age groups in NZ schools.

There are currently large numbers of children in NZ who are underachieving in this area, and despite many excellent remedial interventions available ( such as SPELD, Reading Recovery, Rainbow Reading, Simplistikit etc) many of these children do not achieve to the level of their full potential. Many are in fact leaving high school with only very minimal levels of literacy.

One of the reasons for this failure to achieve is, Mrs Murphy believes, an underlying epidemic of undiagnosed and untreated auditory processing (listening) difficulties.

Sound therapy has been available in Europe and the United States for over 20 years. Studies of the effectiveness of sound therapy are in fact few in other parts of the world and New Zealand has the opportunity to pave the way for an intervention which may well have the capacity to change the lives of thousands of children worldwide.

Ms Murphy has been working with children with learning difficulties over a period of 25 years during her career as a teacher, and most recently out of the Developmental Learning Centre - her specialised clinic in Tauranga.

At the Developmental Learning Centre she and staff have assessed and treated hundreds of children over the past 4 years. “Almost every child who is brought to see us for assessment has an auditory or listening difficulty as part of their “picture”. I have yet to see a child with ADHD who does not have poor auditory processing.

Children with Aspergers frequently arrive with symptoms and test results consistent with an auditory processing disorder together with other underlying immaturities in their “learning equipment”. Auditory processing is not a hearing loss or deafness which must be diagnosed and treated by an audiologist. Rather auditory processing involves what our brains do with what we hear.

The Developmental Learning Centre runs sound therapy training courses for health and education professionals. The hope is that SENCO’s and teacher aids from many schools can be trained so that Sound therapy systems can be set up in schools throughout NZ.