Listening is More than Hearing with your Ears

  • Listening is More than Hearing with Your Ears

    By Elizabeth Sautter, MA, SLP, CCC

    Director, Communication Works



    How many times have we, as parents and teachers said to our children, “Pay attention!” or “Why can’t you listen to me?” We assume all children understand what we mean by those words. We expect children to learn how to focus, listen, and follow directions intuitively, using a “built in” social sense we believe all children possess. Actually, not all children learn and listen this way. Many, especially those with social learning challenges, may not fully understand that listening is more than a function of hearing with your ears. It involves a host of social thinking and social processing skills that may need to be concretely taught for this concept to make sense.


    Decades ago, Susanne Poulette Truesdale created the concept of whole body listening, describing it in her article, “Whole-Body Listening: Developing Active Auditory Skills” (Language, Speech, and Hearing in Schools, Volume 21, 183-184, July 1990). A forward thinker, she astutely recognized that while we provide practice in listening, “do we teach students how to listen?”


    Nita Everly, a speech language pathologist and author of Can You Listen with Your Eyes, tailored the whole body listening concept to the preschool population. Everly stated, “By breaking down the abstract concept of ‘listening’ into concrete parts, children are able to understand what is involved in this complex skill and have a better chance of success in this area.”


    Inspired by Truesdale and Everly, another therapist, Kristen Wilson, and I created Whole Body Listening Larry, a child-friendly character in our social learning groups at Communication Works (CW) in Oakland, CA. Larry taught children how to expand on Truesdale’s original concept in an engaging manner, to help young elementary school students learn to:

    -       use their eyes to look at the speaker

    -       ears to hear what is being said, mouth to stay closed

    -       hands, feet and body to stay still

    -       brain to think about what the speaker was saying and

    -       heart to care about what the speaker was saying.


    Larry also taught them to increase their perspective taking skills by thinking about the thoughts and feelings of others. The children loved this character that helped them learn how to be a more effective listener. This was the light bulb moment for expanding this character into a broader visual tool for other parents and professionals to use with their children. In 2011, our two books, Whole Body Listening Larry at Home and Whole Body Listening Larry at School were published by Social Thinking Publishing (San Jose, CA).


    Read Truesdale’s original article via Eric: or on the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) website:


    To learn more about the Whole Body Listening Larry books and/or purchase a copy, visit the Social Thinking website:


    Learn more about the Communication Works Center in Oakland, CA at



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