Are You Listening?

by Patricia Lemer, M.Ed., NCC

In her book, Listening with the whole bodyListening with the Whole Body, Sheila Frick asserts that listening is active, voluntary, dynamic and continually adapting. Hearing and eyesight are passive; listening and vision are active. They require the brain to act upon, perceive, interpret and store information. They are cognitive functions that distinguish human beings.

Although I have lectured and written widely about vision, I have only recently become interested in the dynamics of listening. I am fortunate, however, to have had key professionals in the field of listening share their perspective. I am indebted to Sabra Gelfond Ingall and Sally Brockett for introducing us to Dr. Stephen Edelson, President of the Society for Auditory Integration (SAIT). Valerie DeJean at the Spectrum Center, continuously shares DDR materials. Sabra, Sally, Steve, and Valerie have all contributed their valuable insights on listening to this newsletter. (See New Developments 1:1,5; 2:1,4; and 5:2,5)

Our 2003 Membership Directory lists more than 40 professionals providing auditory therapies, including Berard, Tomatis, SAMONAS, FastForward, Earobics and Interactive Metronome. In the past 10 years, our knowledge of how listening develops has grown tremendously.

Listening develops. It all starts with vibration. The ear of the unborn child responds to heartbeat, respiration, and visceral noises, and most importantly to the mother’s voice. These reactions are crucial to mother-child bonding, and to later development of speech and language. A two month old embryo has everything necessary for full vestibular function. By five months after conception, the fetus can actually process sound, which stimulates muscle tone, balance and equilibrium. Children with auditory problems, exacerbated by chronic ear infections, need remediation listening to music and participating in auditory therapies can be life-changing.

Listening requires a model. Rhythms and intonations in the womb lay the foundation for listening. A child speaks the "mother tongue" by retaining the ability to hear and form sounds he/she hears, and dropping out those that are missing. Later listening depends not only on the energizing effect of touch, movement and sound, but on modeling, as well. Maybe many children today are poor listeners because we are "double-tasking" adults, who lack an "in box" for their queries. Children perceive us as not listening and then model that behavior.

Listening and vision are a team. Since sound does not arrive at the two ears simultaneously, the time interval difference contributes to our perception about spatial relationships. Gradually, appreciation of visual and auditory space coincides. Good listeners can relate vivid images in their mind’s eye… a Technicolor movie for many. Poor listeners have blank screens. Expert listeners communicate involvement with the speaker through gesture, facial expression and affect, as well as voice.

Listening without vision is challenging. Visuals are absent on the telephone, so the listener must depend on voice, intonation and cadence to enhance understanding. Have you ever tried having a phone conversation with someone who is emptying the dishwasher, answering e-mail, or playing a computer game? These distractions interfere with good listening, which requires quiet both internally and externally.

Listening is a gift. The effort and attention we give to enhancing our listening is an invaluable gift to ourselves and our children. Carla Hannaford in Awakening the Child Heart: Handbook for the Global ParentingAwakening the Child Heart points out that the literal translation of the Chinese symbol for listening is "use the heart to listen."

Kay Lindahl’s beautiful book, illustrated by Amy Schnapper, details many aspects of listening. Founder of The Listening Center in California, she provides the following guidelines:

Listening takes practice. Practice being present in every conversation.

See also the following resources: Listening with the whole bodyListening with the Whole Body by Sheila Frick. How to Develop Your Childs IntelligenceHow to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence by G.N. Getman. When Listening Comes Alive: A Guide to Effective Learning and CommunicationWhen Listening Comes Alive, by Paul Madoule. Contact Vital Links, for workshops incorporating therapeutic listening ( or 608-270-5424.)

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 8, Number 3 - Spring, 2003]

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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