How many of us have children that don’t listen? All of us. It’s the terrible twos and then the even worse threes that really test our limits. As they get older however, they learn to behave a little better but never do get perfect at it. What fun is listening to your parents all the time?
What I’ve found, however, is that there’s a whole other barrier when it comes to Autism, at least in the case of my son Cameron: focus.
Hearing – Lack of focus
Hearing is the ability to take in the sounds around oneself, or as the dictionary describes it: “The faculty of perceiving sounds.” In the case of many Autistics, there is a heightened ability to take in quite a lot of sounds all at once without the minds filtering system in place to muffle unimportant sounds into the background.
What this means is that it becomes very difficult to focus on one sound in particular in order to truly understand what it is. Or in the case of us parents and our children, they are unable to focus on what we’re saying in order to understand what we said.
Listening – Intent Focus
Listening as described by the dictionary: Give one’s attention to a sound: “sit and listen to the radio”. You can see how this relates to one’s focus. When a person focuses their attention on something, they listen intently. They absorb the sounds or what is being said and all else is dismissed.
Listening is the important portion of your instruction giving. Without it, there’s really no point in talking.
Paying Attention and Autism
When I read articles around the web about Autism, I find that they tend to discuss the lack of focus or the intent focus and very seldom do they discuss both. The truth is that for most children in general, far more to the extreme for those with Autism, you are almost always dealing with both.
I feel that one of the biggest hurdles facing those with Autism is focus. I like to think of Autistics as being digital while everyone else is analog.
Those with Autism have 0 and 1. On and off. Meaning that either all sounds are getting in and they hear it all but listen to nothing or they listen to one thing and hear nothing else. There’s not much room for anything else. This is why your child listening to a song, a toy, a tv show, etc will likely not hear you even though you’ve called their name several times. It’s also why your child will not listen to you in a crowd of talking people when you call their name. They likely can’t listen to you.
The rest of us are analog because our minds have the ability to scale the dial back and forth such that we can tune out the crowds to hear those that talk to us and conversely, can break our attention and stop listening when we hear something else of importance.
We all know that there’s a big difference between hearing us and listening to us… but what we might not know, or may sometimes forget, is that it’s not because they’re not paying attention. Or that they’re simply ignoring us (although sometimes that may actually be the case, crafty kids).
It is one of those things that can easily anger us because being ignored is a very frustrating thing but we have to remember that sometimes it’s not intentional. Sometimes it’s not their fault.
Be aware of your environment and that of your child as well. Perhaps they’re not hearing you, perhaps they’re listening to something so intently that they can’t hear you. Try not to get mad.
Instead, try to break their attention when so directly focused or try to direct their attention when there’s just so much going on that it’s hard to listen properly. Maybe take them away from the situation entirely in either case.
If they’re listening that intently, taking them away could result in a meltdown so it’s a judgment call on your part. But there are ways to change their focus without bothering them too much. Sometimes a hand on the shoulder will do.
Just remember the circumstances at work and the entire situation can be resolved much better without anyone getting mad and making a troubled situation much worse.