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Level 1, Reactive: encounters sounds

Observation

People – children and adults alike – appear to pay no attention to sounds to which they are exposed and no consistent responses can be observed with the possible exception of reflex reactions.

Interpretation

Sound is not interpreted as a distinct or meaningful sensory experience.

R-1

R.1.A is exposed to a rich variety of sounds

Despite the rich variety of sounds to which they are exposed, individuals make, at most, reflex reactions – startling at sudden noises, for example.

Strategies

Offer those you are working with or caring for a rich and stimulating range of auditory experiences. Be imaginative but systematic: imaginative in introducing a wide range of sounds; systematic in observing and noting any physiological changes or movements that could potentially be interpreted as positive or negative responses, to inform the planning of future experiences. To human ears there is typically nothing more stimulating than the voice and the sounds associated with it, so talking, humming, singing, whooping or just whispering may well be a good place to start. As well as musical instruments, many everyday objects can be used as soundmakers too: rustly paper, rattly containers, saucepan lids, chains and plastic pipes. Suspending some objects will enable them to resonate, enhancing their sound-making properties. Try making sounds of all kinds: high and low; short and long; quiet and loud. They may be rich in harmonics or pure; they may be bright or dull. They may emanate from any position: in front of the person you are working with or behind them, from the left side or the right, above or below. Sounds may be stationary or moving. They may occur in isolation or together, forming homogeneous blends or contrasting clusters. Streams of sound may be quickly moving or ponderous, describing flowing lines or jagged contours. Many of these ideas are captured in the Soundabout Music Tracks: Sounds (https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/learning-to-listen/level-2-sounds/), which comprise recordings of a wide range of sounds that are extended in time to give people the best chance of taking them in. Use the tracks as a starting point to create individual playlists of sounds that can be made available to people at any time. Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 24]

Context

Inigo has profound and multiple learning difficulties. Here, he is on a summer vacation scheme organised by his school, at which a number of activities are offered, including music. He is being played a series of extended sounds through a small, powerful loudspeaker connected to a computer via Bluetooth. The sounds are taken from https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/learning-to-listen/level-2-sounds/.

Observation

The movements of Inigo’s head, tongue and the fingers on his right hand do not appear to change as the sounds are played or when they stop.

Interpretation

It is impossible to say, on the basis of observable responses, whether Inigo is perceiving the sounds or not.

Other video of Inigo

To see Inigo being shown a gong, see the video in R.1.D.

R.1.B is exposed to a wide range of music

Despite being exposed to a wide range of music, individuals make, at most, reflex reactions to the ‘surface’ features of the music, sudden loud chords causing a 'startle' reflex, for example.

Strategies

Nothing offers a richer auditory experience than music, and nowhere else are the qualities of sound organised with such precision. To enjoy music does not require language or a conceptual understanding of what is occurring. However, pieces of music are typically complex, with many different sounds passing by every few seconds and clusters of notes appearing simultaneously, and to process these makes great demands on the brain. The Sounds of Intent framework suggests that the first experiences of music (at Level 2) will be as a series of unconnected perceptual sensations, in which sounds that are particularly salient start to gain a person’s attention. To help people whose auditory systems are still developing, including those functioning at Sounds of Intent Level 1, the Soundabout Music Tracks have been created. These start by ‘deconstructing’ music into its simplest elements – individual notes – and extending these in time to make their perception as easy as possible. Visit Soundabout Music Tracks: Sounds https://www.soundaboutfamily.org.uk/soundabout-music-tracks/learning-to-listen/level-2-sounds/ and use the resources available to begin to create a playlist of musical sounds and pieces of music for those you are working with or caring for. Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 25]

Context

Raphael has profound and multiple learning difficulties. Here, he is on a summer vacation scheme organised by his school, at which a number of activities are offered, including music. In this session, there are five other participants with profound disabilities, one-to-one carers, and a group of musicians. We Will Rock You is being performed by all those who are able and wish to take part. As a result, the volume level is high. As is often the case, Raphael is in a low arousal state.

Observation

Raphael does not appear to react to the music and sounds around him, although he opens his eyes briefly at the end of the clip.

Interpretation

It is impossible to say, on the basis of observable responses, whether Raphael is perceiving the music or not.

Other video of Raphael

To see Raphael being supported to engage interactively through sound and touch , see I.1.D.

Context

Maryam has profound and multiple learning difficulties. Here, she is on a summer vacation scheme organised by her school, at which a number of activities are offered, including music. Two violinists are playing the song All Join In! from the Tuning In set, accompanied on the keyboard.

Observation

Maryam appears to look at the violin that is near to her, and her right hand moves briefly towards it, but falls back.

Interpretation

It is impossible to say, on the basis of observable responses, the degree to which Maryam may be perceiving the music. However, it may be that the visual element (of a musician performing nearby) is an important part of the experience.

R.1.C is exposed to music in different contexts

Despite the range of contexts in which individuals are exposed to musical and other sounds, they make, at most, reflex reactions.

Strategies

It is important to consider carefully the environments in which exposure to musical sounds and music takes place. For at least some of the time, the individuals you are working with or caring for should have the opportunity to work in an otherwise quiet area with the minimum of distractions. In small, enclosed spaces such as Lilli Nielsen’s ‘Little Room’ – https://activelearningspace.org/equipment/purchase-equipment/little-room – the effects of sounds are enhanced, and auditory clutter (the background noise of a classroom or day room, for example) may be reduced or eliminated. In this way, any attention that individuals are striving to bring to bear will be guided to a single, relevant stimulus, rather than them having to figure out what to listen to among the ‘great blooming, buzzing confusion’ (as the Amercian psychologist William James described early perceptual experiences; see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/james/). Of course, other listening environments may potentially be stimulating too: consider, for example, the differing acoustic qualities of one-to-one teaching and therapy spaces, classrooms, day rooms, corridors, halls and outside locations. The time of day may be an important variable too, and internal influences may also be significant: a person’s capacity or willingness to make the effort to attend to sounds may be subject to a fluctuating medical condition, for instance. Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 26]

Context

Leila has profound and multiple learning difficulties. Here, she is on a summer vacation scheme organised by her school, in an unfamiliar environment, and with visitors she has not met before. She is being played sounds on a small loudspeaker that she has not been given before.

Observation

Leila makes a number of physical movements as the sounds are played, and vocalises at one point. However, there is no obvious connection between the sounds to which she is being exposed and her actions.

Interpretation

It is not possible to say for sure whether Leila is perceving the sounds or not. Carers and teachers who were familiar with her would be in a better position to make such a judgement.

R.1.D is exposed to music and musical sounds that are systematically linked to other sensory input

Individuals make, at most, reflex reactions to the multisensory experiences to which they are exposed.

Strategies

Sounds and music may be combined with other sensory stimulation such as touch, movement, light, or even scent, and it may be that some people first come to respond to sound through an integrated approach. In fact, complex multisensory experiences are typical of everyday life; it is the precise control of their individual elements that is difficult to achieve. However, multisensory environments can be constructed that allow the input to the different senses to be managed with a high level of precision. Here, visual stimuli, such as the colour and intensity of lighting, can be made to vary in response to changes in sound, for instance. Auditory input can be augmented with vibration by using a ‘resonance board’: a hollow wooden platform that amplifies any sounds that are made on it or passed through it (using loudspeakers, for example). A number of vibroacoustic boards, beds, and chairs are commercially available too, through which children, young people and adults can bring a large body area into contact with musical vibration. Be imaginative in trying a range of different multisensory approaches to see if any elicits a response. As ever, keep a careful note of any physiological changes or movements that may indicate a reaction to the stimuli that are presented. Further ideas for activities are to be found here. [DOC 27]

Context

Inigo has profound and multiple learning difficulties. He is on a summer vacation scheme organised by his school, at which a number of activities are offered, including music. Here, he is being shown the gong, as part of a range of new multisensory experiences that are part of the programme offered.

Observation

Inigo does appear to pay attention to the gong that is being sounded in front of him.

Interpretation

It is difficult say, on the basis of observable responses, whether Inigo is perceiving the sounds or not.

Other video of Inigo

To see Inigo being exposed to a range of recorded sounds, see the video in R.1.A.

Assessment

Since functioning at Level 1 implies no discernible engagement with sound or music, assessment at this level necessarily reflects the efforts of teachers, therapists and other practitioners to engage with the person concerned. The complete Sounds of Intent assessment matrix is to be found here [DOC 60] and downloadable assessment sheets here. [DOCS 61 & 62]

Emerging

Is systematically exposed to a wide range of sounds and music, but makes no discernible response

Example 1

Liam is four years old and has profound and multiple learning difficulties. He doesn’t yet appear to respond to sounds (including music), but his parents nonetheless play him a wide range of pieces in the hope that a particular feature of them may kick-start his auditory processing. They have made him playlists from music they found online – each with a different mood: calm, exciting, sad and happy. They observe Liam carefully to see whether he makes any response that they could build on.

Example 2

Mia is 15, and is in a low-awareness state following a brain injury. When she was a little girl, she loved her father playing the guitar and singing to her, and, at the suggestion of hospital staff, he regularly comes to sing and play to her now. He leaves her with recordings of himself too, so that staff can play them when he is not there. The hope is that the music will stir long-term memories that may still be intact.

Achieving

Is systematically exposed to a wide range of sounds and music, in different environments, but makes no discernible response

Example 1

Lucas is seven. He suffered anoxia during a difficult birth, resulting in profound brain damage, including blindness. Although he does not appear to respond to sound or music, his parents make sure that he has a range of rich auditory experiences to try to find something that will stimulate him and that he can enjoy. They take him to concerts and music festivals, and sit with him near street musicians in their local town on Saturday afternoons. They listen with him to the sound of the organ and the choir singing in their local church on Sundays. They try to keep to this routine in the hope that it may eventually help him to develop a broad sense of time linked to different occasions through the distinct types of music that are used.

Example 2

Anya is in her twenties and has profound intellectual impairment. She lives in a home in the community with 24-hour care. Her parents are keen for her to have continued exposure to her Indian heritage (her father is a tabla player), and they often take her to his band’s performances, which are in a range of venues, large and small, and they sometimes perform outdoors in the summer.

Excelling

Is systematically exposed to a wide range of sounds and music, in different environments, and linked to other sensory input, but makes no discernible response

Example 1

Milanka is two, and has a neurodegenerative disease that is in its final stages. She doesn’t appear to respond to auditory or visual stimuli. But her parents are determined to give her meaningful and enjoyable experiences if they can, and they regularly take her sessions in a multisensory room that their local special school offers. Here, sounds and lights and vibration are coordinated, so that stimulation in one sensory domain is always accompanied by input in others.

Example 2

Chang is 13, and has severe cerebral palsy with apparently no functional movement. His class teacher is a great advocate of wheelchair dancing, which takes place in the school hall, with lights as well as sounds. Chang’s teacher moves him to and fro, aiming to give him a vestibular sensation to the pulsing beat of the music.