Entrainment is when one vibrating object is placed next to another vibrating object and they both move towards becoming the same vibration. It is also known as phase-locking or a sympathetic response. As you can imagine, entrainment can have its benefits as well as some difficulties depending on what is being entrained.
When working with a young 4-year old boy with autism I noticed several things about his environment. There were “things” everywhere including many toys with diverse sounds and colours. The whole house had been modified to become his play and learning ground – from the kitchen to the living room to the bathroom to the basement.
Mom would move very quickly around the house, often darting in different rooms catching up on her daily work routine. Mom spoke in a fast, high-pitched voice and every sentence she would say would go up at the end, sounding almost more like a question than a comment. In addition to fast, she spoke loudly to her 4-year old in an attempt to get his attention as he moved from area to area in the home with little or no apparent acknowledgement of her. To me, mom kept saying how exhausted she was.
All persons including children with autism vibrate with and against their environment. When working with the 4-year old I asked mom if she would prepare the small room in her house for our session, removing all the toys and distractions. Each session would start with one large drum in the middle of the room being played with a consistent beat. The child would soon move towards the drum and play intermittently. As soon as he would strike the drum mom spoke encouraging him to continue, while clapping in an unrelated tempo to what was being created. The child’s unsolicited playing would decrease.
It was important I discuss entrainment with mom. Together we discussed different timbres (what sounds affect us in certain ways – using high questioning tones with our voice vs. low, solid tones) and tempo (what speed of voice and movements brings about feelings of relaxation? anxiety?). We then discussed the goals she had for her child that included increased communication and increased attention span. We discussed a program that we felt would accomplish these goals but required an opportunity for the “music (all sounds and silences) to speak” and that meant other distractions including speaking voices and supportive clapping could not be used. We also looked at using deeper and slower movements and tones throughout his day to day.
It only took a week of changes for mom to say – I am feeling much more relaxed at home and am listening to music that is soothing for my son and me. I am also noticing that my son is seemingly more relaxed and focused.
Jennifer Buchanan is a professional speaker, performer and happy owner of JB Music Therapy. She is available to present at your next conference to inspire your audience with music that aims to make each moment more memorable.
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