Electronic Auditory Stimulation effect – Overview

Some children, because of a brain injury either before, during or after birth, are unable to properly habituate to sounds that neuro-typical people take for granted. These children become hyper-sensitive to sounds, even low volume sounds. Their condition is called auditory processing disorder (APD) and is related to sensory processing disorder (SPD).

When these children are 18 months and younger, they may exhibit startle reflexes to a vacuum cleaner in the next room or many other normal acoustic events. By the time they reach three or four years old, some of these children appear deaf, and have developed defensive mechanisms to protect them from unbearable noise. However, their auditory defensiveness is not proper habituation. It is a global “shut down” that isolates them from the world and prevents them from acquiring language.

In many cases these children are diagnosed with autism. In milder cases the child may be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). In yet milder cases a child may not be identifiable as having any auditory issues but may not be achieving the academic levels that his or her intellect would indicate. Other individuals, especially adults have become hypersensitive to sound for other reasons such as a brain tumor, surgery or an acquired brain injury. It has been estimated that 20% of the general population is hypersensitive to common noise to some degree and exhibits sensory processing issues.

The purpose of all Electronic Auditory Stimulation effect (EASe) products is to stimulate, challenge, and promote sensory processing in children on the autism spectrum and others experiencing difficulty with sensory processing and organization.

EASe products are inspired by principles of sensory integration and neurological organization taught by Jean Ayres and Glenn Doman. EASe music is encoded according to the fundamentals of Auditory Integration Training from Guy Berard, with additional, enhanced electronic processing. Various work to connect auditory and vestibular integration inspires the visual/vestibular link, now present in the EASe Games series.

EASe products deliver short, intense bursts of sensory experiences to stimulate but not over-stimulate a child experiencing difficulty with sensory processing and organization. This virtual sensory diet creates a palette of experiences to help a child cope with typical environmental conditions.

Our EASe audio CDs are the original disc-based auditory stimulation program, developed in 1995 and used by tens of thousands of parents, therapists, teachers, non profit organizations, and school systems all over the world. Our EASe Off-Road, Airshow, UFO, Snowmobile, and Rover games are unique multi-modal tools disguised as video games. They are designed to stimulate and challenge the virtual-vestibular, visual, and auditory triad of sensory pathways to reinforce and promote appropriate response to sound and reinforce balance. Our latest product, EASe Funhouse Treasure Hunt, additionally reinforces organization and attention. It incorporates auditory processing by encouraging the child to listen and follow verbal directions, as well as visual processing by providing on-screen directions to scan the environment to find and collect letters, words, faces and objects.

All of our game products are interactive, not testing environments. The child is always in control of his or her movement through the world and is never tested about what he or she does or does not know. All teaching is presented as a simple gift of knowledge to the child.

We strive to balance the sensory experiences in our games and audio products. Too much stimulation and a child resorts to fight-or-flight defense responses. Too little stimulation and we won’t get through the barrier of existing sensory defense mechanisms. As the child experiences short intense challenges to his or her sensory abilities, the brain learns to cope in small steps. The more we tumble, the more the balance centers of our brain organize and the better our brain is at tumbling. EASe products stimulate and challenge a child’s sensory pathways without exceeding his or her ability to cope.

Stimulation exists in two primary forms: auditory and visual. Auditory stimulation is created by encoding a music bed within the parameters of Berard Auditory Integration Training. Material encoded in this way is characterized by passages of muted music, low pass filtered at 1000 Hz and then randomly punctuated with short bursts of intense high frequency boost equalization. The swing of the high frequencies from muted to boosted states exceeds 80 decibels. The effect on a neuro-typical individual can be agitation and discomfort, but many auditory hypersensitive children recognize the sound as calming.

Each game contains approximately 60 minutes of encoded music. Each song lasts between two and six minutes. Every song is carefully encoded with filtering adjustments made for its particular high frequency content. In this way, each song is optimized instead of being a generic list played through an automatic AIT device. EASe games randomly shuffle the play list, maintaining a fresh auditory environment.

Visual stimulation is in the form of various video driving games. The player controls a buggy, airplane, UFO, or toy tractor, navigating around in a three dimensional space, falling and careening from one place to another. The horizon is in constant motion, causing spatial disorientation and, in some cases, a sensation of dizziness. This virtual vestibular environment is enhanced by visual challenges in the form of distractions flying at the screen, challenging saccadic eye movement and visual concentration. In some games, these challenges are caused by a starburst when the player collects a target, while in others, they are the result of bushes flying past the camera. In every game, the general scene is relatively busy, challenging the player’s ability to concentrate on his or her goal, tagging as many targets as possible within a given time limit.

In EASe Funhouse, we have added a treasure hunt. The treasure hunt places a wide variety of collectable treasures in the world and guides the player to them with a soothing voice and visual directions in the heads up display (HUD) at the top of the screen. The player sees either a single object or a list of multiple objects in the HUD, one of which (for example, a picture of six red dots) is larger than the others. The voice-over says, “Go to the six red dots.” The player then drives around in search of the image of six red dots. If the player tags a different treasure, such as an image of a happy man, the voice-over says, “That is a happy man. Find the six red dots.” In this way the player is never tested on a subject and information is regularly reinforced. This mechanism creates a mental image map for the player to recall from when later asked to find the “happy man.”

Treasures range from word cards, to dot cards (quantity), to images of human faces (sad, happy, laughing, frightened, etc.), to colors, geometric shapes, fruit, and more. The player is encouraged to follow directions, to concentrate, to explore, and to remember.

EASe Funhouse Treasure Hunt has six unique rooms, each with a different personality and challenges. The player controls a tiny toy tractor, a bit like a child pushing the tractor around the floor of a gymnasium. Most things are oversized, giving the sensation of being very small in a huge space. One room is filled with elevators and three levels to explore. Another room has mesh panels that allow the player to look through and down onto a complex environment. Some rooms have ball games stimulating and challenging a child’s concentration. All of the rooms are fun to explore, encouraging the child to willingly participate in their own therapy.

The History of EASe Games

· Created in 1995, EASe music CDs were the first disc based sound therapy program for brain-injured hypersensitive children in the world.

· Nearly 100,000 EASe CDs have been sold.

· EASe CDs are used by many thousands of therapists, schools and non-profit organizations worldwide.

· EASe Games are the first sensory integration software for autistic children.

· A Grammy nominated, NASA software developer with years of experience helping brain-injured children created EASe music CDs and EASe Games.

· EASe Games can assist a hurt child to cope with noise and improve balance, visual memory and proprioception.

· EASe Games are FUN, engaging therapeutic activities that children love.

· EASe Listening Therapy apps represent the future of therapeutic software systems designed to help children and adults with sensory processing disorder.

The Story

William P Mueller is a Grammy nominated audio engineer, instructor and curriculum designer. Since 1975, he has engineered music and sound for over 100 major artists and two presidents of the US. He spent five years as a professional video editor and was the chief engineer and senior vice president of the Sheffield Institute for the Recording arts for 25 years.

In 2000 Bill added software designer to his resume, designing SpaceStationSim, the first video game developed in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He designed systems engineering and integration (SE&I) software for the NASA Constellation Ares I, Ares V and Orion Moon and Mars vehicles and the FAA Next Gen air traffic control system. He also designed software for Raytheon and QSS Corporation, and negotiated and signed development contracts with each.

Bill has been an advocate for brain-injured children since 1982. At that time, he was invited to join the board of directors of the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, Tokyo, Mexico City and Livorno Italy. He spent 18 years on their board and as vice chairman became the most educated board member in their treatment of brain-injured children. For many years, Bill’s family and he traveled to Philadelphia from Baltimore on a weekly basis and lived among the children who were being treated there. In 1995 his interests in audio perception led him to develop Electronic Auditory Stimulation effect (EASe) music CDs to help hurt children learn to cope with noise.

Physical, Occupational and Sensory Integration therapists quickly recognized the value of EASe music CDs and incorporated EASe into sensory integration programs. At this time, there are nearly 10,000 therapists, non-profit organizations and schools both public and private using EASe CDs. Nearly 100,000 EASe CDs have been sold world wide, making EASe one of the largest and most successful programs of its kind.

Over the years, parents have asked what activities are acceptable for their children while listening to their EASe music. Can they read a book? Yes, of course. Can they watch TV? Well, not with the sound up, so that is not a great option. Can they play with toys? Yes, of course. Can they play a video game? That question kept coming up, as many children on the autism spectrum love computers and games. However the answer was still: not with the sound up.

Then in late 2007 Bill decided to combine his audio skills and software design experience to create the first sensory integration games for children on the autism spectrum. The games needed to be non violent and able to improve the effectiveness of the EASe soundtrack, by providing visual challenges to a child’s visual/vestibular sensory experience in the way that EASe music challenges a child’s auditory response. He chose to design driving and flying games because they accomplished the criteria handily. In addition, he wanted to provide brain-injured children an experience within the virtual world that they could not experience in real life. The games needed to be extremely easy to play, requiring only a mouse to operate, with no complex keyboard commands. EASe Games are compatible with Windows XP, Vista (not recommended though) and Windows 7 (excellent!).

The first EASe Game was EASe Off Road. It is a driving game, where the player careens around in a dune buggy, bouncing over hills and valleys and tagging targets. The targets appear in the far field with a host of distractions like plants and trees in the near field to challenge the players visual tracking, concentration and memory. The bouncing of the vehicle creates a topsy-turvy virtual vestibular environment to challenge the player’s visual orientation. Therapists watching their patients play often report feeling dizzy, exactly as we intended. The game sound track is EASe-encoded music, the player listens to using headphones.

· EASe Games present a multi sensory environment to challenge and enable children to develop their sensory awareness and orientation.

· EASe Snowmobile and Rover are similar to EASe Off Road set on different vehicles and environments.

· EASe Airshow and UFO are flying games utilizing the same techniques as EASe driving games only in an even more 3D space.

· EASe Funhouse Treasure Hunt and EASe Off Road Treasure Hunt add a discrete trial type element to EASe driving games.

EASe Funhouse is an indoor game, where the player drives a toy tractor around in a crazy funhouse while tagging objects. In addition, there is a visual list of objects presented at the top of the screen. The objects are geometric shapes, word cards, dot cards, letter cards, colored balls, faces, etc, etc. The desired item in the list, (for example, a blue star), is enlarged and a voice over says, “Find the blue star!” The child then drives out into the room looking for the object highlighted on the screen. When he tags the object, it takes center screen and a voice says, “Blue star!” At the end of a group of objects the voice says, “Hurray, you’re so good at this!” and a new set of objects appears in the list. Therapists will recognize a cleverly disguised discrete trial training program in the form of a game.

That is the genius of EASe Games. Children see them as fun games, we know they are much more.

In late 2010 Mr Mueller contacted Tibor Horvath of Audioforge Labs, a first tier developer of audio products for Apple iDevices, to propose a radical upgrade in the EASe line of products. Mr Mueller wanted to build a software based, EASe encoding app employing the incredible computing power of iDevices, that would out perform hardware devices costing as much as $10,000.00. This inexpensive app could revolutionize occupational therapy by providing sophisticated tools not previously available to the majority of therapists. Mr. Horvath immediately saw the value, agreed to the project and hundreds of emails and thousands of hours of programming later, the EASe Pro and EASe Personal Listening Therapy system is now available and getting recognition from every corner of the therapist community.

At Vision Audio we believe Serious Games are the future of software approaches to treating brain injured children and EASe Games are the vanguard of that movement.
Soon we hope to employ the iDevice’s ability to orient itself in space to build a game-like environment to help children with sensory processing disorders improve their balance and proprioception.