The Today Show (NBC) May 5, 2003
TO HER PARENTS Sharon and Dave, Ashley was perfect- the second daughter they always wanted. Sharon says, "She looked beautiful! She looked perfect! I was elated! I wanted another child so Kacey could have a playmate -- they were 14 months apart. Kacey would be a great role model for Ashley." But Ashley had a different idea. At 16 months, she preferred to be left alone.
"The second day, I really remember,
we got into the car and we were driving home -- all of the sudden she said, "I want cookie!"
"She would tune us out when we'd call her name - kind of be in her own world. I couldn't imagine that there'd be something wrong with my child!" says Sharon.
But there was something wrong with Ashley. After a hearing and speech evaluation, it was determined that while her hearing was fine, her speaking ability at 19 months was the equivalent of a 6 month old!
"My heart just sunk!" says Sharon.
Dr. Chuck Conlon, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician at Children's Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland examined Ashley.
"We really look at the hallmark of her social interaction abilities and her communicative abilities -- it was autism spectrum disorder." says Dr. Conlon.
"Autism? Ashley's not autistic," said Sharon.
While devastated, Sharon was also determined to find help for her little girl. Around her 2nd birthday, Ashley started speech and occupational therapy. But despite a 20-hour a week program for almost a year, she made little progress. So Sharon decided to try a special listening program developed by a French ear, nose and throat doctor who theorized that autistic children have under-developed inner ears that can be re-trained through intensive sound therapy.
Auditory training is really looking to help your ear to listen better and to perceive sound better, and in doing that to help start language emerge. Ashley was exposed to music of Mozart after it had been filtered to bring out the high frequencies. Mozart carries higher frequencies in the music, and the instrumentation carries along very consistently with the human voice.
Ashley also listened to her mother's voice after it had been modulated. The mother's voice simulates for children what it sounded like to them when they were in the womb. It's in the womb that hearing develops. The fetus picks up only high frequency levels of the mother's voice and other sounds. Auditory training therapy is designed to replicate those sounds heard in-utero in order to re-awaken the ear's natural ability to listen and ultimately stimulate the brain's desire to communicate. For some kids, it's really opening another new door to them in an entirely new world. For Ashley, the result was nothing short of miraculous.
Sharon says, "The second day, I really remember, we got into the car and we were driving home -- all of the sudden she said, "I want cookie!". She'd never said anything spontaneously like that before. Dave and I just looked at each other and go, "what did she just say?"
After more than a year of listening therapy combined with interactive games, Ashley is now part of the crowd. "She learned to talk, she learned to pretend play, she learned to hug, and she learned to love us. Auditory training was just that switch!" says Sharon.
But autism experts caution about false hope. They stress that the auditory training is not a cure, it's not science, and it's not meant for every autistic child.
"I don't think I could make this a treatment recommendation from the standpoint of definitely do this, until there's more evidence to suggest there's good clinical science to say this works," says Dr. Conlon.
But for Sharon and her husband Dave, this is all the proof they need:
"I love you Daddy!" Ashley exclaimed.