Thursday, October 20, 2011

Big Ears

Today, I heard an adult say to an adolescent, “don’t make me say it again!!”  My brain raced, what was going to happen if this same adult had to “say it again”?  It almost sounded like a threat, especially given the tone used.  Have we become more about being heard, than listening?  I only say this because the person being yelled at happened to have a disability.  I am afraid some of us “might” be guilty of taking our own ability to communicate for granted.  Yet, I challenge, what was this young person, the one who doesn’t speak, what was he trying to communicate, and what kind of behavior did he exhibit, to cause such an emotional reaction, from the adult?  As adults, why are we so short fused, requiring demands over negotiation and listening?

Last night, I was busy, busy.  I had work, laundry, a friendly meeting, and was feeling kind of icky, on top of it all.  I’d call that the whole shebang.  I am not complaining, but you could say, I was complicated.  Around 11pm, I finally laid down.  At 11:15, Alyssa awakened from her sleep, so I got up reluctantly and gave her a bathroom break, then put her back to bed.  Well, she wasn’t ready to go back to sleep.  She was giggling and talking (not understandable, but had a lot to say).  I decided I should go into her room and lay with her for a few minutes to calm her and hopefully help her back to sleep.  We were both very still and quiet for a bit; we were both awake, but silent.  Then, very softly, she said, “I wuv you.”  I said, “I love you too.”  And, then, once again, very softly, she repeated, “I wuv you.”  I am incredibly thankful for our silence.  I am thankful for not becoming frustrated because of how tired I was.  Can you imagine… if we didn’t have our special silence, I would have never got to hear what she wanted to say.  As soon as she said, “I wuv you”, the second time, she went fast to sleep. 

A few years ago, I was at a training… wish I could remember what the training was called… Anyhow, the instructor was talking about language use with kids.  The instructor was orchestrating how we, the adults, say all kinds of things that backfire.  He pointed out some of those phrases like…. “pay attention”, “listen to me” and “did you hear what I said?”.  He gave a beautiful message reminding us parents to recognize, our kids are always listening.  He encouraged us to leave out those unproductive phrases, in order to achieve better, more effective communication.  He showed us, this kind of language only manifested things and often was a response to our own frustration.  I AGREE!!  I am not challenging anyone else; I am only challenging myself.  What good will it do, to get frustrated, and say, “are you hearing me”?  I imagine a teenager (not picking on teenagers) hearing every word and shutting down as the words are spoken.  Here comes the eye roll, in perfect order.  Is the adolescent all wrong?  Or could we, the adults, work on listening differently or better?

Flipping the coin a little, you must know, families who have kids with special needs, often feel unheard by their kids.  I have read about this and live some of it.  See, when you have a child with Autism, there can be noise, there can be sounds, there can be words, but full sentences, describing wants and needs, well, that’s not as easy to come by.  I can assure you, all children, even with disabilities, are listening, more than ever.  For parents, we don’t always know, what is, or isn’t, getting in.  I can vouch and tell you, it’s all getting in.  Alyssa hears everything.  And, she understands it too.  If I ask her to come with me, she usually will.  However, if she doesn’t, there is usually more to the equation.  Maybe I am even caught not listening to her.  If I can stop and take a moment to see what is happening, I may recognize, she is interested in a show and not ready for it to end.  Or, she may be bouncing on her ball and not quite finished.  Bottom line, if I am pulling her my way and she resists, she is telling me something.  It’s not easy stopping my mission in some cases, like when we need to be on time for something.  Then, there are other times; I hope to be more flexible.   I can honestly share, when Alyssa wants something, if I am not listening to her, I can inadvertently create frustration.  So, the golden question….  How do you listen, when someone doesn’t have fluent verbal expression to offer?  My guess, the other senses have to be challenged.  It’s only fair to acknowledge, there is much to share, but more to learn by listening. 

Bottom line, I want to have “big ears”.  Not the kind Dumbo flew with, but the listening kind.  I want Alyssa to feel respected for what she wants to say, even if her words are unavailable.  I will use my senses to listen.  I will try.  In return, I hope she will continue to keep me up at night with her “I wuv you’s” that remind me, we are still on track. 

Thank you for reading.  Have a great week.  Angie

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