Therapeutic Listening

What is Therapeutic Listening?

Therapeutic Listening is a sound based intervention using modified music that targets how the body takes in information from the environment and then formulates a response to that information.  This program can help build awareness and tolerance to information from the environment as well as decrease the need to seek additional information from interactions with the environment by improving the communication of all of our senses with our brain. When we receive information from the environment, our sensory system communicates with the brain to formulate a response.  

How we take in this information and comprehend the input impacts our response to this information in a positive or negative way. What we can observe from using this intervention when paired with therapeutic interventions selected by an Occupational Therapist is improved: 

Understanding and Responding to Sound

Orienting, Regulation, and Sensory Modulation

When a child hears an unfamiliar sound there is a drive to locate and identify the sound.  This can often result in decreased attention to important information within the environment.  This need to identify and locate the sound can result in inattention or participation until the sound is identified. It can also look like a fight or flight response to sound. A benefit of Therapeutic Listening to these children is building increased awareness to changes of sound through modified music.  The specialized modification to the music builds the child’s ability to decipher sounds to more accurately associate sounds to the related source of the sound so that attention can be focused on locating and attending to the important information being presented within that space.  The ability to transition to background and foreground information supports one’s ability to obtain a calm state. 

What this might look like:

  • Upset, tuned out, or confused in noisy environments
  • Difficulty with looking and listening at the same time
  • Difficulty shifting attention from background (unimportant sounds) to foreground (important sounds)
  • Difficulty matching arousal level with the environment (child is very active in quiet space)
  • Poor awareness of body rhythms (sleep, hunger, toileting)
Understanding Space and Time

Knowing the Environment and When to Move Within it

When engaging in activities in noisy environments it can make a kid get lost in the noise.  Getting lost in the noise is a result of poor auditory processing.  This means that the child struggles to identify the important auditory information from the non-important background sounds. 

Therapeutic Listening aides in building auditory processing skills by using modification in music and changes in frequency to build the child’s ability to identify and attend to the important sounds within the environment.  When a child is able to filter auditory information they are able to shift attention to important information.  

Example: Shifting attention to a teacher giving instructions in a noisy environment or locating the sound of a fire engine when playing at the playground.  If your child struggles to shift their attention between sounds, they may benefit from Therapeutic Listening.

What this might look like: 

  • Lost in space- child walks/runs the perimeter of the room, touches/stares at objects within their space.
  • Overly responsive to vacuum, toilet flush, and hair dryer sounds;
  • Poor awareness of spatial cues (up/down/next to etc).
  • Moves body as whole (turns whole body to locate sound or engage in play).
  • Difficulty with transitions
Core and Praxis

Using muscles and Know How

When kids avoid physical play, poor muscle use and knowledge of how to perform a task (praxis) may be the reason.  Kids that have a limited desire to engage in physical play and movement based activities may also benefit from Therapeutic Listening as the modification to the music drives improved breath and body rhythm that support movement and sustained physical engagement. The strong beats and rhythms that are used within this program help to  promote engaging muscles as well as to coordinate limbs for complex movement patterns. 

What this might look like: 

  • Poor posture
  • Clumsy or uncoordinated movements
  • Avoids sports and physical activity
  • Poor timing and sequencing (movement and social interactions)
Connection, Engagement, and Communication

Knowing Oneself to Engage with Others

The highest level skill targeted in this program is the ability to connect, engage and communicate with others.  Many children struggle to reach this skill set as they have difficulty progressing through the previous steps which are necessary for knowing oneself in order to apply that knowledge during interactions with others. Therapeutic Listening helps to build these skills by using human voice within the music to enhance awareness of emotional content, tones of speech (intonation), and its content to promote the ability to comprehend and utilize the information to promote successful interactions with others. 

What this might look like:

  • Difficulty responding to questions/directions
  • Poor body language (unable to read and express)
  • Decreased eye contact
  • Limited understanding of other’s feelings
  • Poor turn taking in conversation
  • Reduced understanding of speech content
Therapeutic Listening

The benefits of pairing this intervention with Occupational Therapy result from providing the proper pairing of therapeutic tasks with this program to help one form a more accurate picture of their environment and one’s body within that environment which enables one to engage within that space and the people within it.

Who would benefit from Therapeutic Listening?

This program is intended to support individuals who experience challenges with taking in and responding to sensory information, listening, motor planning, attention and communication.  It can help those with, but is not limited to the following: 

  • Autism
  • Anxiety
  • Executive functioning difficulties
  • Emotional/Behavioral difficulties
  • Comprehension of communication (written/spoken/visual)
  • Atypical responses to sensory information (sounds, touch, taste, movement, pain)
  • Social interaction difficulties


“My daughter has been going to BDI for ASD/ADHD/Sensory processing issues. We had always relayed concerns to her OT regarding her fear of unknown sounds, worry of toys making sounds, and adverse reactions to sounds she didn’t like. Our OT recommended us to Ms. Lori for the therapeutic listening program thinking that it may help alleviate some of these obstacles along with helping other behaviors she struggles with. Although the therapeutic listening program is intense, it is very much worth it. Getting the two listening sessions in each day is not always an easy task with being full-time working parents and our daughter being in school all day. However, we were able to work out an early morning and after school schedule that allowed it to work. Overall, despite some of the obstacles making it work, we saw great improvements in many of one daughter’s behaviors and an improvement in her sound problems. Towards the end of the program one of our other daughter’s toys went off making an unexpected sound and she even said “mom, I didn’t even freak out when that went off”. She was so excited and proud of herself. That was when I truly knew the 12 week program was totally worth it!” 

Next Steps

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