from Malva: This past spring, I met Mary Bolles, the remarkable woman who—25 years ago—developed Sensory Learning therapy. This approach integrates several modalities (light, sound, and motion) to gently stimulate the brain, encouraging more efficient and regulated functioning, and supporting the integration of the entire nervous system. Sensory issues are part and parcel of autism, and although sensory integration exercises have been a staple in Benjamin’s life, this therapy provides a unique combination of sensory stimuli, extending beyond what can be done at home.
During these hot days of July, Benjamin has been experiencing this multi-sensory therapy with great enjoyment. For twelve consecutive days, we’ve been spending several hours each afternoon at the Sensory Learning Center in Niwot, not far from Boulder. (Currently, 34 centers are located in various states and countries; check http://www.sensorylearning.com)
Here, “in a nutshell,” is an outline of what happens during the therapy, which utilizes a uniquely designed, rotating table. (The comfortably padded tabletop remains level while moving in a circular motion—up, over, down, and back around—describing a 7” diameter circle every 5 seconds. On alternate days, the table top is positioned to rotate Benjamin’s body either sideways—going right/left, or going up/down—moving him up towards his head, then circling down towards his feet). While lying on the table in a dark, quiet room, Benjamin keeps his eyes on a cyclically dimming and brightening light (7-9 seconds per cycle) which, on different days, is programmed to emit various specific colors (one at a time, for set blocks of time)—they’re all very beautiful hues. Simultaneously, Benjamin listens to a specially-processed mix of music which cuts randomly in and out with ongoing persistence, as a radio might do when having trouble tuning to a channel. Often, the sound is muffled as if traveling through water, sometimes low or high pitches disappear, at moments there is crystalline clarity, and all types/styles of music are used. (Note: the unsynchronized nature of the three variously shifting elements requires the brain to remain alert while processing the unanticipated stimuli rather than lulling it into an “entrained” or hypnotic state—as would happen with a predictable sound/light/movement pattern). Further enhancing the multi-sensory experience is the aromatic scent of highest-quality essential oils with medicinal properties (produced by Young Living) applied to Benjamin’s wrists, temples, nape of neck, and nostrils before starting each session.
After thirty minutes on the table, Benjamin goes into a different room to receive treatment with a biophoton instrument (“Chiren” is the newest incarnation of the “Voll” machine and “BiCom” technology). Combining state-of-the-art biofeedback equipment with ancient healing modalities such as acupuncture, homeopathy, five-element theory, and Chinese medicine, the Chiren apparatus helps restore coherence to the body’s energy meridians. Acupuncture points on the hands and feet are used to detect incoherent signals (a special probe is gently pressed to each point which results in the depiction of an energetic wavelength being displayed on the monitor screen, accompanied by other diagnostic information). After Benjamin’s particular systemic weaknesses are identified each day, health-supporting wavelengths are sent through his body system using either a pair of hand-held rods or two special footplates; these devices are connected to the Chiren machine and, with Benjamin’s body as the “connector,” form a biophotonic feedback loop.
After 15 minutes of sitting quietly, allowing the Chiren instrument to do its work, Benjamin is ready for an exercise break. Once he’s taken a leisurely walk around the neighborhood, he returns to the sensory learning table for another half-hour of integrative stimulation, gently exercising his vestibular, visual, auditory, and olfactory systems. Relaxed and happy after completing his second session of the day, he’s already looking forward to the next day’s round of therapy.
Prior to starting the sensory learning program, Benjamin had various assessments: visual field and listening profiles, as well as diagnostic sessions with the Chiren machine. Based on these results, the practitioner is customizing the colors, the music volume-levels (right ear vs. left ear), and the healing wavelengths that Benjamin is taking in. More testing is done as the twelve days of therapy progress, and the therapeutic input is tweaked as needed.
A couple of interesting findings: Benjamin’s hearing acuity is in the 99th percentile. No wonder that sudden loud noises like fire alarms are so distressing to him! (Thank goodness for earplugs and for cooperative school staff—they notify him so that he can leave the building before each fire drill.) Also, Benjamin’s right ear, at first, was not processing as actively as the left. (The right ear connects directly—across the central corpus colossum—to the left brain hemisphere where the primary language-processing area resides). This imbalance is beginning to resolve, and retesting has indicated more balanced processing. Benjamin’s left-ear dominance may explain why music and singing has always been such an effective vehicle for working on his language skills; the left ear has a direct path to the music-processing area of the brain, whereas auditory signals entering the left ear have to travel along additional neurons to arrive at the language-processing area, thus causing a slight delay as compared to input entering the right ear.
Here’s a picture of Benjamin on the table before a session, wearing earphones and looking up at the specially-designed pulsating light (all the systems are run to specification by various computers). The second photo shows Benjamin with the Chiren machine.