Becky L. Spivey, M.Ed.
Even though we use the words hearing and listening interchangeably, the difference
in meaning is significant. Hearing is a sense. Listening is a learned skill. Hearing is the
process, function, or power of perceiving sound. Listening is paying attention to a
message in order to hear it, understand it, and physically or verbally respond to it.
Several things must happen in order for us to listen effectively:
- Sound waves carry spoken words to our ears.
- Sound travels through the outer ear canals (without obstruction) and then through the eardrum and middle ear without being distorted by fluid from colds, infection, or allergies.
- Sound then travels from the middle ear through the inner ear (which must be functioning properly as well) along the auditory nerve to the brain.
- Finally, the brain compares what it hears to previously stored sounds and words in order to make sense of the message and respond accordingly.
Listening is a very critical part of communication, as much as speaking clearly and
choosing the right words. One person sends a message and another receives it. Talking to
someone who is not paying attention or listening is frustrating, as we may have to repeat
things over and over without the getting an adequate response. The person (receiver)
with poor listening skills may misunderstand the message, therefore creating frustration.
A child with a listening disorder can test your patience, but you have to remember, the
child is equally frustrated. Parents may interpret behaviors resulting from their child’s
frustration in communicating as ignoring you, not paying close attention, just being silly,
or acting foolishly.
A child having problems with listening skills is more likely to have difficulties coping in
classroom situations because the majority of information teachers deliver to students
is auditory. Imagine your child’s frustration when he/she walks into the classroom and
“Students, please hang your jackets in your cubby and unpack your backpack. But
before you hang and unpack your backpack, please come give me your lunch order. If
you brought money for your field trip next week, please put it in the red basket on my
desk. Make sure to sharpen your pencils before you sit down to do your seatwork. When
you finish your seatwork, put it in your blue reading folder, get out your reading book,
and wait for me.”
If your child’s brain can’t stay focused on the listening task long enough to translate the
information, the message is lost. This happens when a child has an auditory memory
problem. If the child has an attention deficit problem too, the problems may be
compounded. With attention deficit problems, the brain is trying to work on too many
tasks at once and can’t stay with a message long enough to process
or comprehend it. Then, if the brain is having difficulty storing old
information, it will not know how to make sense of the current
message; therefore, auditory comprehension or auditory processing
problems may result.
Children need strong listening skills to receive and develop
language. Many children with language problems have difficulty
with receptive language (understanding messages received) and
expressive language (the output of language; responding verbally and meaningfully
to messages). When a child’s receptive language isn’t developing appropriately, the
entire language learning process can stall before it begins. Sometimes parents seem
more concerned if their child isn’t talking the way they expect (especially in comparison
to their peers), but speech-language pathologists want to find out first if the child is
hearing clearly and understanding language. If not, meaningful speech, or expressive
language, is not going to develop. This is why speech therapists often focus more on
strengthening a child’s receptive language skills (listening), even if the concern is that the
child isn’t talking properly.
If you notice your child is having difficulties communicating or isn’t able to listen
and respond appropriately, consult your family doctor or pediatrician. Doctors can
recommend the next steps in having your child screened and evaluated extensively by a
speech-language pathologist in your area. After an appropriate diagnosis, and with the
right help, a child can improve his/her listening skills and language overall.
Hamaguchi, Patricia M., Childhood Speech, Language & Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know. Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. © 2001., pp. 10-11.