LUKE:

"It's a flat baby!"

The midwife's voice bounced about the bright white walls. Sally lifted her head weakly, but could see nothing past the huddle of rubber-gloved medics at the end of her bed.

A flat baby? "Have I given birth to a piece of paper?" she gasped to Alex. His silhouette loomed comfortingly against the neon-glare, his hand steadfastly gripping hers.

"Blue". Somebody said, "Blue".

Sally looked back up to Alex. He was ashen white. Silent.

There was a sudden surge of movement around her. Sally's legs were unstrapped from the stirrups. Needles pulled out. Wires disconnected. The midwife burst through, babbling. "..Hold just for a wee minute...intensive care...extra oxygen....good rest...".

A baby was flopped onto Sally's chest. She blinked through tear-blind eyes. It was indeed very flat and very blue. Her first child, Tom, had been born by caesarean section. He had, therefore, come into the world looking quite perfect.

"You are making a mistake", she whispered, "This is not my baby". The room was reeling. She tried again: "You have given me the wrong baby. This is not my..." And the tiny bruised infant was whisked away.

Sally tried to explain. Desperately tried to explain. Fear and exhaustion crowded in, choking her attempts. And somewhere, far in the distance, a woman's sobs drowned out her words.

**********

"Would you like to get up and feed baby?"

Sally jumped. "Good morning, Mrs. Smith. Would you like to get up and feed baby?", the nurse repeated.

The room was neat and tidy, the bedclothes clean.

Sally moved her hand across her belly. Baby? The night before tore back into her memory.

Sally leapt from her bed, collapsing in pain, her bare knees hitting the detergent-bleached tiles.

You have given me the wrong BABY...

The enormity of those words forced her to stand, forced her to stagger after the prim little nurse, forced her to stumble along the corridors, forced through the doors of the Intensive Care Unit. All she could think was to hold her child, beg for forgiveness.

The wait in the cubicle seemed interminable.

When the nurse reappeared, she held a tiny boy in her arms. Sally looked into his little squashed, purple face and filled with an unbelievable tenderness for him. Instinctively, she put him to her breast and Luke began to feed. The ferocity of this baby, deemed far too weak to suck, was such that the nurse called in Sister, just to see. And Sally knew her son would survive.

**********

The first six weeks were blissful. Luke was an easy baby, who cried rarely and fed well. Then came his first check up.

The doctor and health visitor were nervous. They noted "something odd" about the way Luke breathed. They advised an immediate appointment at the local hospital.

Three years before, Sally had lost her Tom during heart surgery. He had not even reached his second birthday. The memory was too close, too harrowing. At the suggestion of there being something wrong with Luke, Sally began to tremble. She literally began to shake with fear.

From hospital to hospital, from doctors to consultants to specialist paediatricians, Sally and Alex took Luke to appointment after appointment. With the history of Tom's condition, all concern was directed at Luke's heart. In time, a diagnosis was given: congenital heart disease with pulmonary stenosis. The nightmare had come true.

At eight months old, Luke was referred to the Children's Neurology/Assessment/Psychology Clinic. Suddenly, the awful expression 'Special Difficulties' came into the vocabulary. Tom had always been so ill that Sally had been unable to compare her new son's development. Luke appeared to be a model baby - quiet, placid, undemanding. So what were his 'Special Difficulties'? And why was he being assessed at the Clinic? Alex and Sally became increasingly frustrated at their inability to coax any direct reply from the medical authorities to any inquiries regarding Luke's condition. Answers seemed purposefully vague, noncommittal and inconclusive.

Shortly before Luke's first birthday, when summoned back to the clinic for yet further tests, Sally dared ask a simple and direct question: "Is our son mentally and physically handicapped?". "Oh yes!" came the reply, "Didn't you know?".

**********

The first few years of Luke's life were spent at his parents' sides. Alex resigned his job at Scottish Opera, then Sally did the same, in order to take of Luke. They started their own ironmonger's shop in Callander, near Glasgow, "probably the maddest thing to have done, but at the time it seemed to be the only way to keep us all together". Having spent her entire life in opera, Sally had to admit that she did not know the difference between a nail and a screw, "but with twenty thousand items to sell, I had to learn fast!".

By seventeen months, Luke was using about a dozen words. His parents were, naturally, delighted. Then Luke fell ill with a respiratory infection and was prescribed Amoxil - a penicillin-based antibiotic, frequently given to children. Suddenly Luke lost his vocabulary. In fact, he did not speak again for almost eight years.

The only reason the medication is specified is because, years later, at a medical conference attended by Sally in the States, two doctors reported to have observed children between the ages of one and two regressing, losing their speech, and developing signs of withdrawal and behavioural problems after being administered this very drug. Surveys have apparently shown this antibiotic, which was developed in the early '70s, to have induced such dramatic allergic responses in children who also exhibit reactions (including autistic tendencies) to wheat and dairy products. There are a number of studies, which appear to connect certain 'autisms' and loss of speech, in some children, to the candida albicans yeast, which tends to thrive after a long course of general antibiotic treatment. It has also recently been shown that antibiotics used to treat childhood ear infections, not only disrupt the natural ecology and function of the gut, but actually contribute to the growth of yeast in the middle ear.

For Luke, the regular visits to clinics and hospitals continued. He had to endure endless days of Assessments, which left his parents increasingly demoralised and unhappy. Luke was simply unable to "Put the blocks in order", "Feed dolly", or "Comb dolly's hair". And still no clear advice. Only, "Time will tell".

By the age of three, Luke had thirty professionals involved in his life, but not one paediatrician, neurologist, psychologist, or 'therapist' could define a Syndrome. Luke did not fit any recognised pattern. For one hour a week, home visits were made to their little cottage at Callander, near Glasgow, by peripatetic teachers and educational psychologists. The physiotherapist brought callipers, clamps and body braces, but once she had gone, Sally hid this collection of gothic monstrosities in the garage - until the next time she came.

The local authorities were supportive, but gave no hope for the future: Luke would probably have to enter the standard educational system for the Disabled and there he would remain, but for the moment, with no clear 'label' to give him, Alex and Sally were told to just "Keep the home fires burning". Well-intentioned, but ignorant, friends and professionals said they should "Accept the facts - this is it for Luke!". Sally and Alex, ridden with guilt, and at times depression and despair, refused to listen. They had long accepted Luke's disabilities - his autistic behaviour, his expressionless face, his hand-flapping, repetitious actions, lack of spontaneity, extreme behavioural problems, lack of voice, his 'Gross Motor Delay' - and loved him just the way he was. But, they had no intention of losing their son to an institutionalised baby-sitting service for the rest of his life. There had to be more.

**********

The first signs of encouragement came from the Brain Injury Rehabilitation & Development Centre in Chester. Dr. McGlown was dedicated; his diagnoses and council were clear and professional; his observations were astute and honest; he gave hope without promising miracles. In retrospect, his gentle programme of half an hour a day of Infantile Reflex Correction Therapy, prepared them well for what was about to come.

Luke was four when a programme about Doran Scotson was televised. Doran had cerebral palsy, but through neurological rehabilitation at the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia his physical disabilities had made way for a highly intelligent, witty, active, capable child to shine through. The 'well-intentioned-but-ignorants' came to the fore again and instructed Alex and Sally to "Leave it well alone!". It was not until Sally braved a letter to Dr. Jonathan Miller, who was courteous enough to return a reply in which he enthusiastically encouraged their nascent interest in the Institute, that they dared to make plans.

Thanks to numerous contacts and friends from their mutual professional backgrounds in opera, the fund-raising concerts - initially in local schools and village halls, and then at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, and The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden - were "staggeringly successful". So much so, that money was raised to support the family for three years of regular visits to the Institutes. Through many people's selfless generosity, the reality of their being able to make the journeys to Philadelphia came like a miracle. Their gratitude remains inexpressible.

Thus it was that, under the direction of Dr. Glenn Doman at the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, the whole family began an extraordinary and intensive regime.

**********

Luke's physical programme was to be one of 'Patterning'. At hourly intervals, two assistants moved Luke's limbs, teaching the brain, "this is how it feels to creep - this is how it feels to crawl". He was then taught how to, first, creep on his belly, then to crawl on hands and knees for himself. Luke had been able to sit himself up, to 'bum-shuffle' and even to stand and take steps, with support, before the programme, but it was imperative that his brain and body establish the neurological connections which only an infant's creeping and crawling is able to do, before moving on to standing and walking. If only more parents were aware of the potential educational and motor-co-ordination delays they were risking by placing babies in 'walkers' long before their children have completed these natural and imperative stages of development.

Back in Callander, with the daily assistance of a dedicated troupe of some 95 volunteers, over the following three years, Alex and Sally crept 18,000 miles with Luke and crawled a staggering 23,000! Within just three months of 'Patterning', Luke was walking unaided when he used to, at best, "totter about like a drunk". In time the "flat, blue baby" was performing such gymnastic feats as running, jumping hurdles, walking on balance beams, back and front flips, overhand walking on overhead bars, and somersaults! But most extraordinary for his parents was that his "flat occipital bone" - the back of his skull - suddenly filled out as the posterior parts of his brain began to develop.

The educational programme - developed by one Dr. Carl Delacato - was as enlightening to Sally and Alex as it was to Luke. They had always understood Luke to have the intellect of a six month old. In fact, his ability to take in information - his 'receptive skills' - were far advanced. It was only his ability to express, to communicate this information that was damaged. From years of 'Round and Round the Garden Like a Teddy Bear' - which, as Sally admits, with a cringe, "must have been driving the poor child insane!" - Luke was learning Higher Mathematics, 4,000 encyclopaedic facts, Italian, German, French and Japanese!

Luke was neither an invalid, nor an "imbecile", as he was once referred to. Every single day he proved himself by his "positive rage to learn". Luke could be regarded - though more importantly he could regard himself - as a capable, contributing human being with potential.

Every two to three months, the family returned to Philadelphia for increasingly scrutinising assessments and increasingly intensive programmes, which the volunteer team in Callander continued to execute with Stoic dedication.

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At the age of six, Luke began treatment at the Kerland's Institute in Somerset. Here they practised a similar method to that at the Philadelphia Institutes, based on the work of Doman and Delacato. All along, it had been assumed that the founder and pioneer of Luke's education programme was no longer living, until, through a friend, Alex and Sally discovered that Delacato was very much alive and living in Spain!

A trip to a clinic in Alpace, and Delacato himself was explaining Luke's 'sensorisms': Luke's sensory pathways were all either over or under reactive, and some were even both. His nose, for example, was hyposensitive to normal smells, but to others - certain body odours, perfume and deodorants - he was hypersensitive, and would reel away in horror! His ears were hypersensitive - whispering gave him pleasure and made his pallid face flush pink, while shrill sounds caused him intense pain. In self-protection, Luke either cut out all sound, or compensated by producing an even louder one himself. Indeed, Delacato assured them that Luke's lack of speech was not a problem of larynx or mouth function, but rather of his ears.

For the first time, in all these years, somebody had explained Luke's behaviour. Alex and Sally were now able to admire their son for coping so well despite the extreme imbalances of his sensory pathways. They could now better accept and approach what they were up against - "and we could all calm down". Delacato's encouragement and hearty "injections of sheer enthusiasm", and the fact that Luke's co-ordination and social skills were improving, drew them back again and again. In fact over the next five years, Luke, Alex and Sally made visits to Delacato in Spain, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland.

Even the four mortgages on their home were worth it. For the first time, Alex and Sally understood Luke. For the first time, Luke understood himself.

********

In 1991, whilst attending an international conference in Bologna, a Belgian woman became most intrigued by Luke. She had a nephew who seemed to exhibit similar characteristics. She related how he had been treated by  Listening Therapy for delayed Motor development and dyspraxia. After a year, her nephew was now speaking and catching up well at school. Sally misunderstood the details. She visualised Luke having to undergo some "ghastly operation in order to have an Electronic Ear inserted!". The woman directed Sally and Alex to a book by Tomatis himself entitled, 'L'Oreille et La Vie' (now published in English as 'The Conscious Ear'). Their French was sufficient for them to realise the Method was worth investigating. It was also obvious that it would complement the Delacato programme and an appointment was made for the family to visit the Centre in Paris.

Thus it was that, within weeks, they were being interviewed in the Paris centre to ascertain whether or not Luke's condition could benefit from treatment. It had, in fact, become quite obvious that the problem with his hearing had worsened since the removal of five teeth due to abnormalities in his gums. Four months before the visit to Paris, from being a comparatively easy-going child, Luke had turned into "a screaming monster, who kept holding his ears".

At the Centre, listening tests were made on Alex and Sally. Where a child is unable to take the test, due to age, or physical or mental problems, a combination of the parents' own results and years of training and experience by the Tomatis psychologists are sufficient to judge the child's auditory requirements.

Alex and Sally sat in sound-proof cubicles, where tones of various pitch were played first through earphones and then through a headset. The latter sat on top of the skull, passing the sound directly through the bone, rather than through the ear. Individually, they had to indicate which notes were audible; whether the note came from the right or from the left; whether the note was higher or lower than the previous. From this test audiograms were produced.

The subsequent consultation with Professor Tomatis brought a promise that Luke would benefit enormously. Indeed, he believed Luke's behavioural problems and motor co-ordination would significantly improve. Even that he would start to speak. It seemed too much to believe in. Too much to dare to hope for.

As for everyone being treated by the Method, Luke initially attended two-hour sessions for fifteen consecutive days. He happily played with trained Child Care workers and with other children who were being treated. And all the time, Mozart, Gregorian Chant and a recording of Sally's voice - with low-frequencies (below 8,000 hertz) filtered out by the Electronic Ear - were played to him through headphones. It is usual for one parent of the treated to child to receive a general treatment themselves, whilst their child is entertained elsewhere and treated in a separate room, and on this occasion it was Sally who "enjoyed the benefit".

For the first two days, Luke was happy, energetic and showed a marked degree of independence.

On the third day of treatment, Luke looked directly into Sally's eyes and said, "Mum". It was a moment she had waited for more than seven years.

During the third and fourth day, Luke became a little tearful, a little "out of sorts".

As the days progressed, his sleep pattern changed; when he did sleep, it was so deep that he had hardly moved when he awoke. He began to laugh more and his normally expressionless face began to develop character. His eyes began to focus and he started to read books for hours, again with a face now full of expression. He began to listen to sound and would react, no longer seeming able or willing to close out his surroundings. He even took to asking to listen to music at every opportunity, with a clear preference for classical works. He became less panicky and more able to contain himself when frustrated or upset. His energy, strength and co-ordination increased significantly and he could happily walk five miles at a time. His eye contact increased immensely and he began to prove himself to have a phenomenal visual memory. He began to use his voice to articulate every request. In fact, he began to vocalise much more in general and, although largely indecipherable, the odd word would burst out correctly. And then a "P-P-P" began, for Papa.

Following the fifteen day session, with a number of weeks between, two further sessions of just eight days each were attended. And Luke continued to progress.

One evening, whilst in Paris, Alex, Sally and Luke were invited to a party. Luke was decidedly unimpressed and grew quickly bored. The treatment he was undergoing at the time had already made him a little more emotional than usual. This, combined with a long day and the sheer tediousness of sitting through hours of grown-up chatter, sparked a connection in Luke's brain. He suddenly entered the room, looked straight at his mother and, in front of everybody, blurted, "I WANT TO GO HOME!". The guests were stunned. Luke was adamant. And Sally nearly fainted.

**********

Luke is now thirteen. All his initial changes through the Listening Therapy have remained constant. It should be noted that the effects of the Listening Therapy are permanent and do not stop with the treatment. In fact, the true benefits usually begin to manifest themselves weeks or sometimes months after the listening sessions have finished.

Luke is now able to eat with cutlery, rather than only with his hands. He sleeps longer and more peacefully. He is generally much calmer, more observant and interested in what goes on around him. He is less startled by the unexpected. He is now able and more than willing to entertain himself, rather than having to rely entirely upon 'input'. He is more adventurous, wanting to venture outside to walk and run alone. He is now able to descend stairs alone, when before he was quite incapable of co-ordinating alternate leg movement. He gives more eye contact and is significantly more affectionate. He now relates more positively to Alex. He babbles for many hours a day with meaning and energy, particularly to inanimate objects. He desires to help around the house, insisting upon doing the washing up - a task he performs with precision and zeal - and generally wishes to be involved in all domestic activities.

Luke is so much happier. He laughs a lot, is more assertive, and decisive. Indeed, to Alex and Sally's initial dismay and then delight, Luke has become less willing to do as he is told. In fact, he had begun to develop and exercise a very individual, and at times mischievous, character!

For Alex and Sally, the benefits of the Listening Therapy for Luke have been far-reaching for the whole family. It is not unreasonable for them to state that it has changed all their lives.

 redjelly