Eli Stickley is an accomplished musician who can sing with a lovely singing voice and accompany himself on ukulele or guitar while singing songs such as “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons or The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World.

In August of 2017, Eli will perform his first private concert that showcases all of the songs in his repertoire that he has been learning over the past two years in his adapted music lessons with music therapist, Julia Beth Runkle. Eli initially started adapted music lessons with Julia Beth due to his love of music, in addition to the need to find an alternative method of learning music to support his individual needs. Eli says “I feel happy when I am playing music….it’s just like, really fun. Julia Beth is really nice to play music with…. it’s just like fun and it’s sort of exciting to learn songs

Eli has expressive communication disorder in addition to mild hearing loss that he has had since birth. As a result of this diagnosis, Eli has experienced some challenges in auditory processing which can impact his ability to follow directions and respond to auditory stimuli.

“It can be a lonely world for parents of children who don’t ‘hit all the benchmarks’ at the right times, and we were frustrated by the lack of options we had to help identify and specifically address Eli’s challenges. Although he regularly expressed his desire to play guitar at a very early age, we were very leery of subjecting him to a rigid music education program. And, to be honest, I suppose we weren’t entirely certain he had the aptitude to learn music. When we found BAMT, we were thrilled! We were familiar with the field and felt that a music therapist would have the patience and flexibility to allow Eli to take the lesson where he wanted (to feed his interest), along with the resourcefulness and tools to keep him on track toward learning an instrument.” – Eli’s parents.

However, what began as simply the pursuit of music lessons turned into a realization to both Julia Beth, Eli’s parents, and his audiologist that his hearing and his ability to process auditory information had greatly increased over the course of his music therapy treatment.

Research has found that a trained musician’s brain selectively sorts meaningful musical sounds from non-meaningful with far greater ease than the average person. This appears to be a function of the repeated process of sorting the desired sounds from the extraneous, background sounds. Not only are musicians better able to identify relevant musical sounds, they show superior skill in processing the sounds of language as well, particularly in noisy environments. For children with auditory processing challenges, distinguishing the relevant sounds of speech out of the general background noise can be challenging. Based on these research findings, engaging in musical training could potentially prime the brain to elicit and process the meaningful sounds of language much more readily. Not only does music enhance neuroplasticity, it has been shown to actually change the brain’s physical structure by increasing gray matter and strengthening the connectivity between the hemispheres.

When discussing Eli’s musical accomplishments that parallel his improvement in auditory processing, Eli’s dad states “of all the technical aspects of music, I was most blown away by Eli’s improvement in his ability to match pitch while singing. When he first started working with Julia Beth about 2 years ago, Eli would sing the lyrics to songs seemingly without a sense of melody or pitch, and would often sing notes in a different key. Now, I know that Eli is aware if he is singing the correct note or not because he will stop and look down and fix the chord if it is not matching the notes to the melody he is singing”.

Eli’s most recent audiology report indicates significant improvements in these central auditory processes assessed: auditory closure, dichotic listening (binaural integration), temporal patterning, and temporal resolution. Eli’s parents feel that the combination of speech therapy, music therapy, auditory integration therapy, and the auditory training program called CAPDOTS have all contributed to his dramatic improvement in matching pitch and auditory processing.

Eli’s audiologist, Melissa Wilson, AUD, at Sound Speech and Hearing Clinic in San Francisco, strongly believes that his participation in music therapy has contributed to his improvement in auditory processing stating “I was so thrilled to learn more about what Julia Beth is doing with Eli. I believe that had he not already been working with her, some of the scores on the central auditory test battery would have been much lower.”

Eli’s parents also have noticed significant improvement in his attentiveness and in the ease with which he’s able to engage with others. “While we believe Julia Beth’s work has specifically improved key areas, such as speech fluency, and emotional expression, the real payoff is watching Eli interact with others. The ability to communicate is so fundamental a skill at any age. He’s much more confident and easy going in social situations. Two years ago, he was the kid inside, building with legos all by himself. Today, he’s out in the neighborhood on his scooter, looking for playmates, as soon as he gets off the bus. Music has been a gift for Eli.”

Eli eagerly continues to prepare for his upcoming concert, and also looks farther into the future and says “I might play music when I grow up….I might“.

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