What we’ve got here is a failure to modulate.

Sorry, I Just couldn’t resist.  So, you may have a sensory kid, you may not.  But all of us have seen a failure to modulate whether our kids are typical or unique.  Modulation is your child’s ability to control, in this instance, volume.  I often joke that my son is missing his volume control knob.   But really what he’s missing is his ability to modulate.  It seems this is one of the hardest things to teach.  For Isaiah, since we have been treating his Sensory Processing Disorder since he was 2, and he is now just shy of 7, it has been one of the last lingering issues we have been attempting to tackle.
It’s easy to get frustrated in therapy and feel like you’ve hit a roadblock.  That’s how I felt when I pulled him out last year.   But this year I put him back in, because although we are having almost an impossible time trying to figure out how to “teach” him this skill, two brains are better than one and I respect his therapist so much. So I figured we should put our heads together to try to think of something.
We visited two weeks ago for kind of an update and she explained to me that this is one of the hardest things to teach.  I left feeling a little disheartened, BUT as is my penchant when I am told there is no answer in things regarding my son, I thought, and researched, and thought some more.  And then: I had an epiphany.

I love to sing. And I love music.  I am not a public singer, and I only play instruments for fun.  But even when Isaiah was 16 weeks I knew how important music was to development, so we began Kindermusik class.  Early on I noticed he was very uneasy in class, and that was one of the red flags that led me to understand that he had SPD. However I kept him in the class, I just never forced him to participate, because at home I saw the results. Whatever he wouldn’t do in class, he always did at home.  But I digress.

As I was singing my heart out in my car the other day I realized that in order to sing to certain songs you really needed to be able to modulate your voice.   The dictionary definition is ” to change or vary the pitch, intensity or tone of one’s voice”.  So then I thought of my voice lessons as a child going to theater camp, kids interested in singing and not were all lumped together learning to modulate their voices.  So I figured, why can’t I do that with Isaiah?  Why can’t I Teach him about singing and projecting from his diaphragm, and modulating his voice?

So last night was my first try 🙂 I started by getting us ready a little earlier for bed, only because this was the best time for me, not for any pedagogical reason.  Then I said “Isaiah, let’s do some singing, I want to teach you a song.” I asked him what song he wanted to learn and of course he picked his current favorite which needs not so much modulation.  So I choose one that I often put him to sleep by.  “Desperado” by the Eagles.  Now don’t get me wrong, the little monster was not a little compliant child.  He was bouncing around, hanging upside down from the bed.  But I just ignored all of that, I wanted this to be fun, maybe even a memory to cherish!  He’s super familiar with the song because he’s been hearing it his whole life.  So we started.  He chimed in every couple of words and when he yelled them, I explained he should take a deep breath and try to make the sound come from his tummy.  He should push it out from down low, not from his throat.  I demonstrated.  I put my hand on his stomach and I said take a deep breath, now make your word come all the way from that breath.  And you know what? He got it.  Now, he didn’t learn it forever.  The next word was from his throat.  I would demonstrate by putting my hand on his throat and on his tummy to show him what I meant again.  I did this a bunch of times but mostly I just sang and pointed out how my voice got quiet in some parts and louder in others.  But even when it was loud it came from down low, which didn’t hurt ears.
So…when he clearly was no longer paying attention or caring.  I stopped.  It was hard because I saw that glimmer of understanding and wanted him to get it!  But then I thought….. Patient Persistence. It is my motto and my constant theme with Isaiah.  I really didn’t want to ruin it because I think this might work!

Let me know if you want some help with trying this yourself.  I realize that I have an advantage, already having had voice lessons.  However to teach this to a kid what you need to know is very easy to learn.  It’s really all about pushing sound out from the “belly”  which is really the diaphragm and abdominal muscles, not from the throat or nose 🙂  You can do it!  I’ll help if you want, just ask!  And the bonus is, it’s fun!!!

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5 thoughts on “What we’ve got here is a failure to modulate.

  1. Really neat post and so ironic. We attended a party today, late afterrnoon after being at a very stimulating park with no quiet time. The party was in a room that was not carpeted and there was a ton of noise. We were getting our food (another trigger for sure beiing eating) and i hear him seated across the room makingand loud sustained grunting noises half singingand for about 3 or 4 minutes til i ccan get back. I think he was trying to stay above the din of the room. Was that him trying to sort of control his enviroment?

    • I have the same problem with Isaiah, tonight we went out to dinner, the restaurant was noisy. Not incredibly so, but noisy. Isaiah could not stop singing “The devil went down to Georgia” and actually he wasn’t singing, he was just doing the violin solo with his fork and knife as a violin. Of course he too had to rise above the din. I did recognize this as his need to be in control of the audio input, so I took him outside while we waited for our food. I had him run and do some jumping jacks to help him get back in his body. To go back to some of those sensory things that are so much like joint compressions to help him feel more in control. It really worked too. We did it about 10 minutes, and I would say it bought me about half an hour. After that all bets were off again, and we packed up his remaining food and headed home.
      The other thing us just eating in general has always caused Isaiah some issues. He tends to have trouble with food that he is not completely used too. Even sometimes at home. His body and his mind are basically at war, and it is impossible for him to sit still while he eats sometimes. Because his body is saying, “get away from this food”. And his mind is telling him to listen to his mom and sit. This war makes him get up, and sit down, and get up and hug me, then sit down, etc. I have a video I shot for a therapist I will post on this specific topic later!
      I find the best thing to do in those situations is to either avoid them :-), bring something to help like ear plugs or noise blocking headphones, or to do what I did, get them to feel their body.

  2. I work with kids in music and theatre and I think this singing modulation practice you started is very cool. Music is a fantastic agent for so many abilities: timing; responsibility; breath; appreciation of negative space; rhythm; practice; connection to body etc. You’re offering a huge vault of practical skills as well a long period of creative adaptive use. Hooray!

  3. Thank you, this is a great start. I was looking for information about Asperger’s syndrome and one of the signs is the inability to modulate the voice. I had been unable to figure out how to teach my 8 year old how to lower his voice, and today the Asperger’s information used the word modulate and I thought that would be a useful search term. I had thought perhaps that singing might be a useful method to master volume control but I couldn’t figure out a useful search phrase. I typed in teaching children to modulate their voices and your page came up first. My son has sensory processing disorder as well so this page was a very appropriate search result. Thanks!

    • I am glad that this helped you. It’s been a huge ongoing struggle for us. One of the things that the OT said, was that auditory processing is the toughest nut to crack. We still struggle with it. I wish I could offer more help, but mostly it is just persistant, patient reminders.

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