Safe and Sound

Is your child “highly sensitive”?

Do they struggle to manage and regulate their emotions?

Do they have anxiety, difficulty sleeping, or challenges with focus and attention?

If so, Safe and Sound might be for them.

The Safe and Sound program is a non-invasive listening intervention that targets the calming and soothing of the nervous system. The Trauma Foundation has prepared a fantastic video that explains the role of the nervous system in many social, emotional and physical health challenges. We encourage you to view their video:

As discussed in the video, traumatic experiences can lead to challenges in nervous system regulation, but trauma is not the only contributing factor to nervous system dysregulation. Often, neurodiversity can change how the nervous system regulates. Individuals impacted by ADHD, Autism, and learning disabilities often experience highly sensitive and/or nervous system dysregulation. This can often be observed through the experience of sensory sensitivities, sleep challenges, hyperactivity, auditory processing challenges, difficulty concentrating, 0 to 100 emotions, and high anxiety.

What is neuroception?

Neuroception is like a 6th sense – the way our brain, body, and nervous system constantly assess for environmental risk. Using our other senses, neuroception determines the response state our body should be in. When no risk is assessed, our body remains in a calm and engaged state. We are able to focus, be still, be in control of our emotions and actions. We are able to engage with others. We feel safe. When neuroception assesses a level of risk it automatically shifts our body into “fight or flight”. Our heart-rate increases, breathing patterns change. The emotion and survival centre of our brain becomes highly activated. With this activation, the thinking part of our brain shuts down – we are in survival mode. This makes it difficult (if not impossible) to think, plan, reason, and control our impulses and emotions. Our body and nervous system have taken over to ensure our survival. This can look like rage, agitation, avoidance, panic and anxiety, and hyperactivity. Further, if we are unable to escape the perceived threat through “fight or flight”, our system triggers a “freeze” response. This is a shutdown. This also happens when we have been in a sustained state of “fight or flight”, or chronic stress. We feel tired, lethargic, empty, depressed. We might “zone out” and disconnect – we are here, but don’t really feel present. Sometimes in children, this LOOKS LIKE extreme defiance – they might look like they are ignoring and refusing, trying to control the situation; when in fact, they may just be immobilized by their “freeze” response.

What can trigger the nervous system to have a survival response?

While many environmental threats make logical sense – i.e., an angry animal, accidents or near misses, angry or threatening people; many individuals who experience a dysregulated nervous system experience “hidden threats”. These threats vary widely and are based on individual experiences. Some common triggers we see for children can include:

  • Sensory processing/overwhelm
  • Overwhelm of executive functioning skills (Needing to use more thinking, planning, organizing or self-control than their skills and functioning allow)
  • Demands and expectations
  • Parental/Caregiver stress
  • Various relationships/connection (some people or relationships feel unsafe or risky)

What is Safe and Sound?

Safe and Sound is a listening intervention. It is specially filtered music that is designed to engage your nervous system. Sound is one avenue that the nervous system uses to assess for environmental threat, and this intervention targets the vagus nerve through muscles in the inner ear. When an individual has experienced trauma or a hyperactive nervous system, the inner ear adjusts to become more perceptive to auditory indicators of risk. With this adjustment, the ear is not as perceptive to sounds of connection and safety. Humans are inherently social beings, who exchange social and emotional information with one another (through facial expression, body language, voice tone and prosody) for the purpose of building community, connection, support, and, ultimately, survival. When an individual does not receive these indicators of safety and connection, their nervous system remains in an activated state – consistently triggering fight, flight, and freeze. Over time, the result can be a nervous system that is overactive – finding threats around every corner with limited opportunity or ability to return to a safe and calm state. This is where Safe and Sound can help.

The music of the Safe and Sound protocol gradually re-trains the inner ear to attend to sounds of safety and connection in others, specifically through enhancing the ability of the ear to attend to voice prosody in others that reflects indicators of safety. Over time, this allows the child to have more balanced perception of risk, resulting in a better-regulated nervous system. There are 3 parts to the Safe and Sound protocol: Connect, Core, and Balance. You might think of Connect as a preparatory program, Core as the key intervention, and Balance as a follow-up and booster. The Core program consists of 5 hours of specially filtered music that is listened to in order, gradually targeting shifts in how the ear perceives voice prosody. Core, Connect and Balance are used as part of an individualized treatment plan.

How is the treatment plan developed?

If you are interested in Safe and Sound for your child, or have more questions, send us an email: safeandsound@familykinnections.ca We will answer any questions you might have and send you an intake form to be completed. The intake form asks questions about your child’s strengths, skills, and areas of struggle. We want to understand how nervous system hyperactivation might be impacting your child. We use this information, along with ongoing communication from you to develop and revise (as needed) an individualized intervention plan with Safe and Sound. While programs are individualized, we do have core phases of the intervention at Family Kinnections

PHASE 1 – Initial Assessment

An intake form is completed and reviewed to determine if Safe and Sound is appropriate for your child. If needed, a more in-depth interview may be scheduled to better assess the fit of Safe and Sound for your child.

PHASE 2 – Preparation Learning

You and your child will be provided access to our online Safe and Sound academy. Here you will learn more about the science behind Safe and Sound, how to help your child develop effective emotional regulation skills, parenting strategies to enhance the benefits of Safe and Sound, and instructions for home administration. If you prefer, these lessons can be delivered live (virtual) and individually for an additional fee. Based on your intake form, we may recommend that these lessons are completed with a clinician as opposed to self-directed. There is information for both kids and parents at this phase, and it must be completed before your child begins the active listening phase.

PHASE 3 – Active Listening

Your assigned clinician will propose an active listening plan. This is generally completed at home with parents supporting the listening sessions. There is a mobile app that is used to provide you access to specially filtered music. Your child’s individual plan may include Connect, Core, and Balance, or an individualized combination. Your clinician will provide instructions for your child’s initial listening session. Typically, this is a brief session and allows your child, you, and your clinician to observe your child’s initial response to the music. You will complete one, brief (length determined based on initial assessment), listening session and monitor your child’s response over the next couple of days. You will then update your clinician on your observations, and your clinician will provide advice for the frequency and duration of future listening sessions. During the active listening phase, we encourage you to remain in regular contact with your clinician to ensure timely and appropriate revisions of the listening plan as needs change. Treatment plans vary widely at this phase. Some children may listen for 30 minutes at a time several times per week, while others may listen for 5 minutes or less once or twice a week. This is highly individualized and based on a number of factors. It is critical to never listen longer or more often than recommended without discussing this with your clinician first. In-office or virtual listening, directly supported by a clinician, can be arranged for an additional fee.

PHASE 4 – Follow up

Following the completion of your child’s individualized listening plan, they will move into maintenance and follow-up. The benefits of Safe and Sound are often gradual and take place over weeks and months. An individualized follow-up plan will be developed with you. Some children benefit from a second round of the listening phase several months after initial completion. A second completion of the listening phase, if necessary, is included in your original program fees.

Do I need to come to your office?

No. We are able to provide remote delivery of the program.

Does my child need a diagnosis to access this or benefit?

No. Diagnosis is not necessary. Our initial screening helps us to determine if Safe and Sound might benefit your child and their needs.

What are the fees?

The base program, which includes the initial screening, assessment and treatment plan; access to the specially filtered music; ongoing virtual support; access to our online learning modules; and a second active listening phase if necessary, is $399+HST CND. This can be paid over 6 monthly payments of $66.50 +HST. This is the fee for one child. Additional family members may be added at a reduced rate of $199 +HST.

Live virtual or in-person sessions with a clinician (for either the preparation learning phase or active listening phase, only when needed) are billed at the customary rate of the specific clinician (ranging from $75-$150/hour). These sessions may be covered by your extended health benefits.

How long do I have access to the music and your support?

Your clinician will provide you with a generous estimated time for completion based on your child’s individual needs. You may continue to access the music and clinician consultation up to the estimated date of completion. Sometimes life happens, and we understand that. Our work toward well-being gets derailed, and we don’t move toward our goals as quickly as we anticipated. In this case, we are happy for you to continue with the program, and of course, to continue to access our support. We charge an extension fee of $49/month to ensure uninterrupted access to the Safe and Sound program and clinician support.

Does it work?

Don’t take our word for it. We invite you to explore the research and speak to other parents. There is a Facebook group for parents called “Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) – Parent Info. Forum” – We are not affiliated with this group, but it is a nice resource.

There are also published papers and books on the science of Polyvagal Theory and affiliated interventions. Stephen Porges, Deb Dana, and Mona Delahooke are prominent authors in the field.

It is a powerful intervention we, as clinicians, have used personally and with our loved ones.

PORGES, S. W. (2009). The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 76(Suppl 2), S86–S90. https://doi.org/10.3949/ccjm.76.s2.17

Porges, S. W. (2004). Neuroception: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety. Zero to Three (J), 24(5), 19–24.