Listening to Yourself

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By Dan Coulter

Who do you listen to?

We generally listen to people we respect. Which makes it kind of ironic that we don't always listen to ourselves.

A while back, my wife pointed out an article about listening written last by elementary school teacher Andy Dousis, who noticed his fourth grade students excluding a classmate from their activities. This classmate had trouble making conversation, so he sometimes pushed or grabbed others. He had other challenges, too, and often sobbed in frustration.

While the other students were initially patient with this child, they became less and less tolerant as the year progressed.

In looking at his own behavior, this teacher realized that the good example he’d set at the beginning of the school year had slipped away from him. In September, he had put considerable effort into integrating this “difficult” classmate into the class, and his students had responded. But as the year wore on and he’d gotten busier, he'd become impatient and spoken sharply to correct the child’s inappropriate behaviors. The students were simply picking up their cues from their teacher. A good person and a good teacher, all it took to start fixing his approach was to listen to himself and realize what he was doing. Things got better for the lonely student and everyone in the class benefited.

This story brought to mind a conversation I had with a mother of a grown son with Asperger Syndrome at a conference in Philadelphia where my wife and I spoke. The mother explained how no one had known about Asperger Syndrome when her son was younger. She now looked back sadly at the way she had initially reacted to her son’s difficult behaviors without meaning to. One day her four year old daughter, after continually hearing Mom speak sharply to her older brother, looked up at her mother and said, “If you'll be nice to Jim, I'll be nice to you.”

In that moment, her world changed. Even before a diagnosis helped her better understand her son’s condition, her daughter helped her listen to herself, and be more of the mother her son needed.

This mother wasn’t alone. When my kids were little, my wife pointed out to me that I spoke to our son with Asperger Syndrome in a very different, and less patient, tone than I used with our daughter. I confirmed this listening to myself on some home movies. It’s easy to respond with the first thing that comes to mind to fix an immediate problem, but in a way you might regret later. I learned to change my responses.

This also was when I learned to patiently explain to my son how I expected him to act before he went into a situation, and even practice beforehand. The change wasn’t instantaneous, but he did start doing much better. In fact, he’d often work hard to follow our instructions, then look up at us with an excited face and say, “I did it right, didn’t I?”

This can be such a basic fix. Just listening to ourselves and making any changes necessary to say what we really want to say.

One of the best feelings in the world has got to be listening to yourself talk to a child, and liking what you hear.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the videos, “Understanding Brothers and Sisters with Asperger Syndrome” and “Understanding Brothers and Sisters on the Autism Spectrum.” You can read more articles on his website:

Copyright 2008 Dan Coulter (Revised 2014) Used By Permission All Rights Reserved

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