No doubt, if you have been around The Children’s Therapy Center, Inc. for a length of time, you have heard of the Interactive Metronome, or IM as it is nicknamed. Maybe you have even had a child go through one of the programs or your therapist is using it during therapy sometimes. This blog is about what the Interactive Metronome program is about, who it can help and how it works. I come from a position of bias towards this program because I have been using it for years, truly love it and have seen big changes in the people who go through the program. Your therapist will tell you if they think it would be appropriate for your child, and you can and should ask the many questions you probably have about it. One of the best ways to understand this program is to try it out for yourself, even just for a few minutes.
The Interactive Metronome is a computer-based therapy. The user listens to a set rhythmic beat and tries to hit a switch at the same time as the beat. Think of the metronome piano players use to learn to maintain a rhythm. Same thing. In fact, this technology was originally developed to help musicians and athletes with their timing. The therapy part comes in the fact that the therapist is able to determine the exact movements/exercise of the user, the amount of time for the exercise, as well as the speed of the rhythm, and the parameters for success. There is feedback (visual & auditory) from the computer letting the user know how close they are to the target sound, if they are hitting the switch too slowly or quickly, if they are improving, if they are losing focus. A typical program at our clinic consists of 15 visits done over 5 weeks with the child spending approximately an hour or less 3 times a week. There is also the IM-Home, which is a home unit available for those who want to do home therapy instead. A trained therapist is still needed to help support and guide the family who use the IM-Home.
So, for an example, let’s say the user is a teenager with some problems in attention at school and coordination of gross motor movements such as running or batting a ball. He may be asked to hit a switch on the floor with his feet, right foot then left foot and so on, alternating feet for 2 minutes. He is wearing headphones and can hear the target sound, which is a cowbell, and needs to touch each foot alternately on the floor switch to try to time it as exactly as possible with the cowbell. The therapist can give him a computer screen visual that helps show him where his hits are in relation to the target, and there are also auditory cues that can be turned on. There are even games to play that appeal to a variety of ages. Typically, a session consists of a variety of exercises, and the duration and difficulty are gradually increased as the user is able to tolerate it. You can see a video of the IM in action here: https://youtu.be/u1vSIBKudAg
So, what is the reason someone would use the Interactive Metronome? As mentioned above, it helps them work on Timing and Rhythm. Research has found that people who have poor timing and rhythm often have issues related to attention and focus, coordination, balance, language processing and the ability to control impulses. The changes we have seen in the many children who have gone through our program can be as subtle as being more compliant with responsibility, being able to sit through a meal, contently waiting their turn or as dramatic as learning to ride a bike, achieving developmental milestones, and getting through a day at school without a breakdown. The brain responds to improved rhythm and timing by processing better and being able to learn quicker.
Who can benefit from IM? The broad answer is pretty much everyone! Who doesn’t need a little “tune up” in their rhythm and coordination? The IM program is being used not just in therapy with children but also with adults in rehabilitation programs. It is also being used by professional athletes to help their game skills and, of course, by musicians. But our concern is kids. At The Children’s Therapy Center, Inc., we have used the IM to help infants, toddlers, school-age kids and teens. A huge variety of diagnoses can be treated depending on their needs, such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, brain injury, auditory processing disorders, dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder, language disorders and more. You can discuss with one of our trained therapists whether or not your child is appropriate for the Interactive Metronome program. For more information, please visit their terrific website, www.interactivemetronome.com.
Nancy E.A. Weiss, MOT, OTR/L