Friday, September 5, 2014

Middle ear may hold answers for autism treatment

You're home alone, in bed, with the lights off. You hear a dull thud at the other end of the house, like an intruder trying to break in. You hold your breath and your eyes widen. Your heart pounds, your
ears strain. You want to get up and investigate or pick up the phone to call the police, but you can't. You're frozen with fear.

Behind these instantaneous physical reactions is a system designed to protect you. It begins in your middle ear, which detects the sounds and feeds them to your brain, which communicates to your nervous system that danger is imminent. This triggers physical reactions suited to the level of threat. Fortunately, for most of us, the visceral urge to fight, fly or freeze is relatively uncommon.

But for people who have experienced trauma or neglect, and those with some psychiatric disorders, everyday scenarios can switch the nervous system to high alert. So accustomed are they to danger they detect it everywhere, unable to distinguish between friend and foe.

Flooded with fear, they freeze out other people and can end up estranged from society. It can harm every aspect of life, from forging relationships, to learning, to being physically well.

American psychiatrist Stephen Porges has spent his life trying to decode the nervous system. In the process he has explored the function of the middle ear in helping us sense danger, interpret emotional meaning, express ourselves and even stay alive.

He has developed a simple but "revolutionary" therapy, called the Listening Project, which he says retunes the nervous system via the middle ear, to trigger both a sense of safety and the ability to socially engage.

Dr Porges has successfully treated children with psychiatric disorders and learning problems in the US and, in a pioneering study with the Australian Childhood Foundation, will treat Australian children affected by trauma. His supporters hope it could present a breakthrough in the way we treat and support children who have experienced abuse or neglect.

Read the whole story at The Age

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