5 Effective Active Listening Habits for Parents
Listening. To be heard. It’s one of the most important things we do as humans. We all love to talk and share stories with one another. Being validated through active listening makes someone feel valued and loved. Being a caregiver, parent, or sibling to someone with autism can be a great challenge. Understanding however, the way someone with autism both relays and processes information can change that frustration into patience. It’s important for me to make it clear – each experience is unique; it will be up to you to find out what works best when it comes to hearing out your loved one with autism.
1) Minimal Encouragements
For someone with autism, it is imperative that they feel heard. One way of “hearing” your child is through the use
of minimal encouragements. This can be accomplished through the use of encouraging sounds or comments that don’t interfere with the flow of conversation but let the person know you are listening such as; “Oh?”, “When?”, “Really?”. While you’re at it, another pro-tip is to maintain eye contact. Maintaining eye contact will help you pick up on some of the non-verbal cues that your child is trying to convey.
Summarizing what you are hearing is a valuable approach that ensures what you’re hearing is actually what’s being said. Remember, when paraphrasing, don’t pass any judgment or make any personal interpretations. Usually, you can start by saying, “it sounds like you’re telling me…” By using this approach, your child can confirm that what you’re hearing is what he or she is actually trying to get across. Think of it like a talking stick, your child talks, you respond, and your child confirms that what you’ve said is correct, and you can proceed.
3) Emotional Labeling
How many of you have been asked, “Why are you so upset?” If you’re like me (I hope I’m not alone), this phrase actually stokes, and sometimes even sparks frustration. The purpose of emotional labeling is not to call out or exacerbate emotions, rather, it’s to let the other person know what you are observing. It might go something like this, “You sound…,” “You seem…” It’s good to ask for clarification, “Do I have that right?” Using emotional labeling with your child helps them become more cognizant and aware of how they are behaving, just as it would
you or me.
This is the technique of repeating the last word or phrase and putting a question mark after it. For example, “I’m
so upset with Jack!”, “Upset?” This plays off a similar concept to emotional labeling, except you don’t call out or
re-route the person talking. Instead, you use their words to help them open up a bit more about what it is they’re
5) Effective Pauses
Most people are not comfortable with silence and will fill it with talk. Allowing silence encourages the subject to
continue talking. Remember, these are tools in the toolkit. You may use them in every conversation, but having
them on stand-by will equip you to navigate conversations more effectively.