So, your child or student with autism does not listen, will not listen, never listens. This seems to be the theme in my mailbox this week. Here’s my answer:

How do you know?

Gotta ask: Do you equate listening with compliance?

Just because she doesn’t give the response you want doesn’t mean she’s not listening.

He may hear, but not understand you.

She may understand but not know how to respond or comply (even if you assume she does).

He may know but can’t retrieve in that moment.

Your body language may be speaking louder than your words.

Your tone and inflection may be drowning out your words.

And if you feel like she won’t listen, doesn’t listen, never listens—you can be sure she feels the same way about you.

Separate won’t (chooses not to) from can’t (is not able to). A child with autism answers via the mode of communication open to him at that moment. Engage all your senses and listen to all the ways he’s trying to communicate. When our message isn’t getting through, it’s incumbent upon us to try a different way.

Communication breakdowns are too often about adults insisting our own chosen mode, whether that little person with only a fraction of our life experience is capable of it or not. Change the channel and you may find a completely different program.


© 2016 Ellen Notbohm www.ellennotbohm.com
Photo credit: L. Shat /Dollar Photo Club

Further reading: Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, Chapter 5, “Listen to all the ways I’m trying to communicate.”

2 Responses to “Child with autism does not, will not, never listens? Ask this question.”

  1. I love the line- ‘separate won’t from can’t.
    I also believe that if we’re convinced about their understanding and listening- then different channels will open up.

  2. Gary says:

    Having reached the age of 50, only recently discovering my own autism through my youngest son, I can say from my own experiences that, I sometimes hear and sometimes not hear. When I am focusing on something I love doing everything else is blocked out, I hear the noise but not the words, and hearing so much noise around me I dont pay attention unless I can see someones voice is directed directly at me. With noise overload I found I would shut everything out and would be drawn to what interests me. It’s like trying to listen to someone talking in a room full of people making noise and not realising one of those noises is someone else trying to talk to you from a distance, you sometimes don’t know that person is directing their noise at you. There are also times that I am so engrossed in what I am doing that any interruption would break my concentration, so I put people in an imaginary queue, then problems arise when I forget they are waiting. There have been countless times I would answer, pardon or sorry automatically, which gave me valuable seconds to process questions, but problems arose when I found myself answering before the question was repeated.

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