The Interactive Metronome

by Patricia S. Lemer, M.Ed, NCC

What is the Interactive Metronome?

The Interactive Metronome (IM) is a valuable new educational tool for children with dyspraxia, language delays, attention deficits, learning, cognitive, sensory integration and motor challenges. Invented by a former rock musician, it was initially used to improve natural timing for musicians and athletes. Interactive Metronome, the company, was founded for the purpose of developing, researching and delivering the IM to children with special needs.

IM equipment consists of a computerized metronome, headsets, foot pads and hand buttons. Trainees are instructed to make smooth, controlled hand and foot motions in a continually repeating pattern, without stopping between beats. They must focus only on the metronome beat and not be interrupted by their own thoughts or things happening around them.

Attention, learning and problem-solving all depend on the capacity to plan and sequence actions and ideas. This capacity relates directly to a child’s ability to follow directions, read, write, do math and, most importantly, think. We have not previously had the technology to enhance these capacities. The IM enhances people’s ability to plan, sequence and organize by integrating auditory processing with timing and rhythm.

Who can benefit from the IM?

Potential trainees take a pretest which quantifies their ability to recognize timing patterns, selectively attend to tasks and make simple corrections. The pretest indicates if a person has specific deficiency patterns that need to be addressed. Frequently seen deficiency patterns can be overly energetic (hyperballistic), chaotic (not related to the beat), or hyper/hypoanticipatory (occur before or after the beat). Sometimes a subject becomes exceptionally distracted by the computer generated sounds, and the response is thus inappropriate.

What is the object of IM Training?

IM Training helps individuals improve their ability to focus, attend and concentrate for extended periods of time. The IM emits changing sounds that systematically prompt the user through a series of exercises like:

Although many trainees improve in motor ability, the 13 IM treatment exercises are primarily designed to enhance mental concentration.

What are IM sessions like?

Initial treatment sessions help trainees to discriminate between the sounds triggered by their own actions and sound of the steady IM metronome beat. When trainees have broken their existing deficiency patterns, and are able to achieve the prescribed standard IM score, they move to a second phase of training.

Next, trainees focus only on the steady reference beat. They ignore the trigger sounds, their own internal thoughts and the unrelated stimuli around them. They learn to keep repeating their motion patterns without making any adjustments. Doing so results in obvious improvements in their IM scores.

How long does the training last?

Each subject attends a minimum of 15 one hour IM sessions, one per day, over a 3 to 5 week period. The actual number of IM sessions varies according to each individual’s pre-existing capabilities, needs, neural habits and goals.

A session includes 4 to 8 of 13 treatment exercises, repeated according to a set regimen. Trainees practice the exercises at a pre-set tempo and the number of repetitions per exercise increases from 200 during the first session to a maximum of 2,000 during the ninth session. By the end of the IM Training they have systematically exercised their ability to stay on task (focus) approximately 35,000 times.

What are the typical results of IM training?

Controlled IM studies show that from session to session all participants increase the length of time they can selectively focus on the metronome beat without being distracted They thus improve their planning and sequencing abilities. Occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, optometrists, psychologists, and educators report that the IM is an effective complement to existing interventions for children in their practices. According to noted child psychiatrist Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan, "Attention, learning and problem-solving depend on the ability to plan and sequence actions and ideas. The IM helps children improve their foundational planning and sequencing capabilities."

The experience of staying on beat has a very positive psychologically motivating effect. As trainees move from a deliberate to an automatic mode, "entrainment" occurs. Entrainment is a state in which activities take place in an effortless, involuntary fashion.

How can I find an IM practitioner?

Currently, more than 150 therapists use the IM with their patients. To find one or to learn about training, visit the informative Interactive Metronome website.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 6, Number 2 - Fall, 2000]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.


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