Learning to make sense of the world

. February 5, 2013.

Grace Neal was diagnosed with autism at age two. At age four, she was frequently withdrawn and agitated, flapping her arms and spinning, unable to follow simple directions or sleep before 11 at night. While watching his beloved Stanley Cup playoffs, retiree Ron Wallace suddenly realized that he couldn’t see the whole screen. It wasn’t the television — his doctor told him he’d had a mild stroke that had left him with no peripheral vision.

Both found their lives vastly improved, after going through the unique therapeutic program at Toledo’s Sensory Learning Center.

Light, sound and motion

A darkened room. A colored light overhead. Soothing but oddly broken music coming from headphones. A bed that rotates gently. Our writer visited the Sensory Learning Center and was allowed to try the therapy, and found it disorienting but strangely soothing. It might seem strange or non-traditional, but the program has been enormously effective with children on the autism spectrum, and with various attention-deficit or sensory integration disorders — and even with stroke patients like Ron Wallace.

The therapy was created by Ohio native Mary Bolles, who has degrees in business, philosophy and Far Eastern religion, and was frustrated with her own son’s troubles with social interaction due to autism. Seeking an alternative to the pharmaceutical remedies favored by the medical profession, she came up with a solution, focusing on the root of the problem — the senses. Children and adults with sensory issues simply have difficulty processing information the world throws at them, and can find it overwhelming and frustrating. The light, sound and motion of the SLC’s therapy stimulate the brain’s three main sensory systems — visual, auditory and vestibular — and encourage the brain to form new pathways. The gaps in the music force the brain to fill in the blanks, stimulating its ability to process input.

Natural teaching

The Sensory Learning Program was brought to the Toledo area by Dr. Jeffrey Schmakel, who also operates an optometry practice and the Vision Improvement Program. The Sensory Learning Program, a non-invasive, drug-free program takes 30 days — 12 days of two 30-minute sessions in the office, followed by 18 days of home therapy with a portable light instrument. The Center’s Keri Porter is enthusiastic about the results — she saw them in her own son, Caleb, who went throught the program in 2008.

“The experience was incredible,” gushes Denella Neal, Grace’s mother. “She loves lights and music so it was very effective with her.” Grace’s spinning and flapping have calmed. She’s calmer, more relaxed. She goes to bed on time. She even seeks out social contact, now. “Coming up and kissing us on her own,” Grace says.

Ron Wallace’s vision started to improve almost immediately. “I was out in the yard on the second day,” he remembers, “and I blinked my eyes and realized I could see some things I hadn’t been able to see.” After a few weeks, he could resume driving. “They’re just wonderful, the staff,” he says. “You just know it’s going to work out because of their attitude and their demeanor.”

For more info on the Sensory Learning program call 419-578-0057 or visit www.sensorylearning-Toledo.com 3454 Oak Alley Ct., Ste. 209., Toledo, Ohio.