Making Sense Of Sensory; Part 1

October 25, 2011 Logically, if light and sound have the power to stimulate, calm or regularize us, we should be

able to tap into this same energy for therapeutic purposes. But, what is this “normal” state we are attempting to “return to”?  

Consciousness .. that continuous, internal dialogue combining “prize-fight announcer” reporting on the body and its’ physical  surroundings with and self-talk as the mind contemplates what to focus upon.  Are my senses confirming:

  • danger?   If so,fight or flee.
  • continuity of perceived context?  Am I still the same person I was a micro-second ago? Is the world different than I believe it should be at this moment?
  • it is a safe time to reflect.  If so, I will think about my thinking.

What happens to our Consciousness when our senses are no longer or reliable?  We understand that certain chemicals, or their absence can alter our state of consciousness.  Can we draw analogies to the sensory system?  What are the effects of exposure to aggravating stimulation or an inability to process sensory signals properly?

Here’s some food-for-thought before passing judgment on new therapeutic approachs to Sensory Integration.

Sacks’ investigation into unusual sensory cases, which fills eleven volumes, are summarized here along with quotes lifted directly from the Wikipedia:

 Dr. Sacks interview  at the Harvard Book Store  from NPR Radio

Migraine (1970)  Sacks describes the nature of and treatments for migraine particularly examining the visual aura feature that is common to many sufferers, along with the premonitorys, a type of extrasensory perception that would involve the acquisition or effect of future information that cannot be deduced from presently available and normally acquired sense-based information or laws of physics and/or nature.[5

Awakenings (1973)   Recounts the life histories of victims of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica epidemic and Sacks’ the amazing events that followed 40 years later when he administered L-DOPA, a new drug, to help these patients.

A Leg to Stand On (1984)   Sacks’s own experience, after an accident, of losing the awareness of one of his legs

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985)   The title of the book comes from the case study of a man with visual agnosia.[1] , the inability to recognize familiar objects or faces. Twenty-four essays dealing with brain deficits and excesses as well as to spontaneous reminiscences, altered perceptions, and extraordinary qualities of mind

 Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf (1989)  Explores the past and present events that shape the world of deaf people in the United States and contemplates a Sign language and it’s striking concomitant enhancements of perception implying the resourcefulness of the human species.  Sign is not only a language but the very medium of deaf culture.

An Anthropologist on Mars (1995)  Case histories of autism and Tourette’s Syndrome.  Essays explore historical case studies of patients both in and oput  outside the hospital, often traveling considerable distances to interact with his subjects in their own environments. Sacks concludes that “defects, disorders, [and] diseases… can play a paradoxical role, by bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen, or even be imaginable, in their absence.

The Island of the Colorblind (1997)   Exploration of a society where congenital colorblindness is the norm and home to a strange neurologic malady resembling Parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001)

A memoir

Oaxaca Journal (2002)  A trip to see ferns in Mexico turns into a meditation on Mesoamerican civilization, chocolate, agriculture, mescal, amateur naturalists and more.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007)

… Sacks turns to the intersection of music and neurology — music as affliction and music as treatment… Sacks, in short, is the ideal exponent of the view that responsiveness to music is intrinsic to our makeup. He is also the ideal guide to the territory he covers”  Peter KramerThe Washington Post

The Mind’s Eye (2010)

The complex workings of the brain and its astounding ability to adapt and overcome disability”.

”…my ‘shyness’, my ‘reclusiveness’, my ‘social ineptitude’, my ‘eccentricity’, even my ‘Asperger’s syndrome’”, can, he thinks, be put down to lifelong face blindness. A rare consequence of brain injury, it is now understood to be quite common in the general population.” The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks – A Review, Nov 6, 2010


Dr. Nelsen Mane, a strong proponent of hemispheric integration training  And here, boiling 60 minutes down into 151 seconds.

 Alex Doman works  with sound.  Watch his recent presentation in the World Cafe` here onautismBrainstorm.   Alex helped develop the sensory-friendly criteria for Sensory Star Hotels and Resorts .

The National Light & Sound Therapy Centre offers desensitization exercises


Dr. Laz, “Touching Lives Through Music & Education”   music therapy program for students with profound special needs

Adam Goldberg, “Hands On Music: An iPad Band for Students with Disabilities”.  Using touch technology to help students use their musical gifts rather than battle the barriers thrown up by their constraints. 

  • Be informed.  That means do your homework
  • Be objective.  You may not like it but, if the shows merit, it is worthy of exploration
  • Be flexible.  There is no silver bullet. Let’s face it; we don’t have a very big arsenal.  The more tools we discover,  the better able we will be to help.


  • What is the underlying science and documentation
  • For whom this treatment is recommended; what is it’s relevance to your need
  • What are its’ strengths and weaknesses
  • What are realistic timetables for achievable goals.
  • The professional standing of the therapist

Does anyone have their own good story about how music/light may have played an important role in some school activity?

Perhaps you would like to suggest one.  

  1. Great blog post! Beloe is an excerpt of an article that my son Jeremy , wrote for his college newspaper. (Jeremy is severely impacted by autism and sensory challenges, yet graduated from high school with a GPA of 3.78 at age 22 – :

    “Good music makes a big difference in my life. The most important thing it does is help me to sequence, meaning it helps me to know the order of steps in any physical action . Things like the steps of a task, the right way to move my body and how quickly I react rests on the rhythms I feel Music can remind me to get sequences correct. Listening to music while writing makes the flow better between my brain and my body. I truly think that music preserves my sanity because it keeps me in rhythm.
    Twice a month I have a Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) session. NMT is the therapeutic application of music to cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunctions due to neurologic disease of the human nervous sytem, and this helps my brain organize the different parts of my body (ie upper, lower, arms, legs). The importance of NMT for me is that the different parts of my whole body frankly behave like they are separate, and the different parts seem to need to listen to the same beat to be able to move together like other people’s bodies do. The NMT therapist helps me find my inner cadence.”

    I love your tips “what to understand before judging” and “what to remember before considering” – I tell parents the same thing.

    Can’t wait to read part 2! Sharing on-line.

  2. Interesting post. Dr Sacks revealed his own issues with faceblindness on a very recent BBC programme:…-The-Man-Who-Forgot-How-To-Read-and-Other-Stories-BBC-One-review.html

  3. Chantal, Is it accurate to distill this topic up, to quote Jeremy, ” NMT therapist helps me find my inner cadence.”

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