Interview with Dr.Tomatis, Actio Humana
According to Professor Alfred Tomatis, the need to communicate with others finds its roots in the life of the fetus and in the dialogue that the mother established with it.
This initial dialogue is essential; the desire for communication, sparked in the process of birth, determines his openness to others, and hence his aptitude for language.
Dr. Alfred Tomatis made the ear and listening his privileged field of experience and also his passion. Thierry Ott went to see him in his Parisian office, a large apartment where each of the large rooms had been converted into a therapy laboratory equipped with recording material and headphones.
At 71, Tomatis still works almost 20 hours a day and sleeps only four in two stages: nine to eleven in the evening and two to four in the morning.
Actio H. You were the first, Alfred Tomatis, to talk about intra-uterine listening. The first to claim that the fetus was able to hear; and even to communicate with the outside world. This was in the late fifties. The least we can say is that at that time hardly heardly anyone heard you …
Alfred Tomatis : I've been called scatterbrained, this type of thing! But it must be said that at that time, it was still unknown that the ear of the fetus is practically operational from the fourth month and a half of uterine life. An American researcher, Salk, demonstrated in 1962 that the fetus could hear the sounds of the mother's heart. Shortly after, Norwegian scientists provided evidence of the acoustic sensitivity of the fetus with audiograms to support that theory. To make these audiograms, sounds are sent to the uterus by means of vaginal probes. One then listens to the sounds of the heart of the child according to the sounds sent. According to the cardiac reactions, one can get a precise idea of the acoustic sensitivity. After these experiences, my critics calmed down...
A.H .: But according to you, human hearing is formed even before the fourth month.
Dr.A.A.T.: Many phenomena that occur immediately after fertilization of the egg still escape us. I am indeed convinced that when we know them better, we will realize that the embryonic sensitivity is much earlier than we are willing to admit today.
A.H.: How did you come to imagine that a uterine auditory life existed?
Dr.A.A.T.: In two ways. First, by the observations I made on children and adults about hearing reactions to phonation. An example may help you to better understand. One day I looked after a little girl who at five years-old, still did not speak. We helped her find the desire to communicate.
And what did we observe?
Well, that this child seemed to understand English better than French, while her parents spoke to each other in French! However, we learned that during the first three months of her pregnancy, the mother had worked in a company where she only spoke English ...
A. H .: And the second way?
Dr.A.A.T.: It was more the result of reflection than of experimental deduction. An English researcher, named Negus, had noticed that an informative transmission was possible, in the egg, between the mother of a bird and its young. If, for example, birds' eggs belonging to a singing species were hatched by birds deprived of the faculty of singing, the newborns were very likely in these conditions to lose their song. It made me reflect, thinking that the uterine wall may have the same ability of transmission.
A.H.: You have succeeded in identifying the nature of the sound world in which the fetus is bathed. What does it resemble?
Dr.A.A.T.: I like to compare it to the muffled sounds of the African bush at dusk! At least as one imagines them: distant calls, echoes, rustling sounds, a soft murmur. The fetus hears, but it does not hear in the same way as a being who has been born. Remember that intrauterine listening is marked by the fact that the embryo is immersed in the amniotic fluid. Initially, the ear must be able to function in a fluid environment. The ear then adapts to perceive the frequencies transmitted by the water. The liquid acts as a filter: it mutes all sounds.
The fetus receives a thousand sound impressions, from visceral noises of all kinds to the heartbeat of the mother. The mother gives a nest to the child. Then she feeds him. She feeds him in every way, in particular with sounds. And of course, the fetus also hears, in a filtered way, the voice of his mother.
A.H.: How to be so sure of that ...? And even if the fetus actually does hear his mother's voice, isn't it just an anonymous noise among a multitude of others?
Dr.A.A.T.: So do the following experiment with a child. Within ten days following his birth, sit him on a table and ask several adults, including his parents, to pronounce his name. You will observe no reaction from the infant until it is the mother who speaks.
At that moment, the child's body bends and falls to the side where his mother is. The subject thus reacts to the sound of a voice, the only voice he perceived when he was in the fetal state.
A.H.: In the acoustic environment that is his own in the fetal state, the ear would there- fore play an active role. It could distinguish certain sounds from others. And these sounds, like the voice of the mother, the child would recognize them from birth ...
Dr.A.A.T.: Perfectly. The actual way of the ear is not to hear, but to know what to listen for.
In the perception band of the auditory apparatus, not all sounds are apprehended in the same way: the ear favors some of them. What the ear of the fetus receives, these thousands of sounds reminiscent of the African bush, and what it perceives from this sound jumble are two totally different things.
A.H.: If the fetus perceives the voice of its mother, isn't that already developing a form of communication between the two beings?
Dr.A.A.T.: A pre-verbal communication; a true duo of love! This first dialogue that is established between the mother and the child in her belly is a dialogue of flesh and bone. The mother supports the child. But the mother, at the same time, becomes what the child does with her. Through it, she changes the way she speaks, her behavior, her way of life. The voice of the mother, which the fetus hears at all times, plays an essential role in this exchange. However, this voice will not be perceived in the same way by all the fetuses. For some, it will be a long and tender melody. For other less favored ones, it will only be phrases without warmth, a kind of deaf emotional mutism, or even be a vector of hostility.
A.H.: In language, the meaning of words is not the only value of communication …
Dr.A.A.T.: There is also the way in which the words are said. It is the emotional charge that the mother transmits through the emotions expressed in her voice that forms the true substratum of this initial communication.
A.H.: Does the quality of intrauterine communication between mother and fetus have an influence on the further development of language, and therefore communication, in children?
Dr.A.A.T.: The child marks his arrival in the world with a cry: we expect this cry to be a sign of life when in reality the child screams death. He cries that lost paradise that was for him the maternal womb. It is in the fetal state that a person receives or not, the desire to communicate. If a harmonic, secure dialogue has been established between the mother and the fetus, a person, from birth, will live in the nostalgia of this initial communication. This nostalgia will follow him throughout his life. On the other hand, if the mother fails, for various reasons - unwanted pregnancy, problems in the couple or communication difficulties that she has herself - to establish with her child a dialogue that births the desire to communicate, the child, logically, will experience less of this nostalgia for the initial exchange. The child will therefore be less inclined to seek out contact with others, which may translate very early into language disorders, such as dyslexia or stuttering or in more serious cases, schizophrenia for example, where the child will even refuse communication. Language disorders are always communication disorders; specifically, disorders in the desire to communicate. And these disorders have their origin in the intrauterine life. Thierry Ott _ Tomatis Informations (1989) Nr 23. pp 52-53.
book extract : Learning disorders, Les Troubles Scolaires, Dr. Alfred Tomatis
The ear has two windows, the eardrum and the inner ear. The latter alone carries the desire to listen. The ear decides to use its possibilities in two ways:
in simple audition the sounds tickle the tympanum but the child can be indifferent to that and leave the internal ear closed which opens only with the desire to communicate ...
In 'listening', which we distinguish from simple 'hearing', the child mobilizes its whole being in favor of conversing with the other.
We can not 'see' listening. The only way to 'get at it' is indirectly – through skills that are related to it in one way or another. This checklist offers a catalogue of such skills, and will enable you to assess yourself, your child or your students with respect to listening. There is no ''score'', simply check as many boxes as feel appropriate.
This knowledge is extremely important in early identification and prevention of listening problems. It also sheds light on the possible causes.
This is the listening that is directed outward. It keeps us attuned to the world around us, to what's going on at home, at work or in the classroom.
This is the listening that is directed within. We use it to control our voice when we speak and sing.
The ear of the body, which controls balance, co-ordination and body image, also needs close attention.
The Level of Energy
The ear acts as a dynamo, providing us with the energy we need to survive and lead fulfilling lives.
Behavioral and Social Adjustment
Listening / or Not Listening is often related to :
LISTENING CHECKLIST estalished by Paul Madaule
BOOK : When Listening Comes Alive, Paul Madaul / The Listening Center, Toronto