not-listeningHearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear. If you are not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning.

As a child

In kindergarten and first grade,  my parents knew that I was slower in learning how to speak.  I was very happy with my own creative thoughts and was too busy to notice that I might not have been interacting with kids as much as they may have been interacting with each other.  My parents took me to a specialist to have my ears checked.  I passed the examination fine since I could identify when a sound was coming from various angles from the right side or the left side.  They checked my hearing not my listening ability.

By the second grade, I had a reasonable  vocabulary to start reading interesting fiction books on my own.  I was learning from reading.  Listening and speaking was still behind but who cared when the focus was on reading comprehension, writing, spelling, and my ability to take written tests.  I don’t remember having close friends since most kids interacted at a whole different verbal level. And oh, I loved the black and white TV programs after school . . . . like “Sea Hunt” and “Sky King” which come to think of it were more action oriented than the dialogue-based situation comedies of the time.

Much later in the 4th grade,  I remember my teacher actually pinching me and saying “Gordon, why can’t you pay attention!” .  She probably thought that I was disrespectful and not being a good student.   I would just drift to things that would get my attention visually or the entertainment of my own thoughts.  Some might call this ADD but it was just too much work to stay in tune with what was going on with the verbal instruction.  I loved the hands-on art projects . . . . paper-mache , painting, and molding things with clay. I got A’s a B’s even with my part-time mental participation.  I loved the activities at recess. Who knew back then that the level of my verbal communication, or how responsive I was to questions was any real indication of how smart I was.   You’re only as smart as you sound or how in context your conversation might be.

My dad lost patience with me many times.  He thought my selective listening and lack of remembering things was just an excuse.  I remember phrases like “Why don’t you ever listen to me!” or “You don’t care about what’s important” or “Gordon,  are you listening to me?”  or “Do you hear what I’m saying?”  Audio processing disorder . . . who would have known?


I liked kick ball, soccer, handball, monkey bars, the rings, baseball, basketball.  I discovered when I got older that I was always having an internal conversation separate from the external conversation of the game going on.  Getting coaching while playing was interesting too. Physical activities while trying to listen was a good exercise for me but it was difficult.   If I stopped to listen while playing soccer for instance that defeated the purpose of the coaching.  I just didn’t know that I wasn’t really good about the multi-tasking of listening while playing a game.

Gymnastics training gave me the time to think about the trick before practicing it. Evaluate the performance then try to improve it the next time. Having the coach call all out reminders as I was performing or learning a routine might cause me to lose concentration on what I was doing physically in order to listen to what the coach was telling me to do physically.  Who knew,  I didn’t know.   I thought everyone had a hard time listening while doing something physically.  Thank goodness that the brain and the body learns to be more automatic after enough repetition so that you do have to think about what you doing while doing in so listening could start to happen on well learned physical feats.  Sometime I would sort of fall apart in the middle of a routine if thought I needed to understand what my coach was trying to remind me to do while I was doing it.


In my adult life I learn that many people can understand what people are saying without focusing on it.  Communications from people that you are not directly talking to can be understood while talking to another.    My current wife now believes that I have to filter-in talking noise to be aware that its happening.  She want’s more ability to filter out the chattering that goes on by kids.  She actually can listen to what people are saying without consciously focusing on it.  On the other hand,  I have to switch focused from one conversation to another and I can’t always switch back to the conversation I left because I totally lost focus.   Sometimes I’m too protective to stay on the thought or conversation I’m in.  Then I’m accused of not being caring enough to temporarily switch to a quick listening interruption because it’s not an interruption for majority of people.

Sometimes people talk so fast and have so much to say that my comprehension just can’t keep up even though it’s my native language.  That’s why its called an audio-processing disorder.  I have found myself faking comprehension to save face and stay in the conversation.  Conversations and comprehension is easier when I’m leading the conversation and asking question which increases the predictability of what people are saying.

If the conversation is about something I’m well read in, I can politely dominant the conversation with a lot of interesting and humorous comments so I don’t have to chase where the conversation may meander to.  Years and years of technical sales training developed a lot of speaking and presentation skills.  I had subject matter down.  I knew the benefits of what I was selling so I could capture and keep the interest of the prospect.   Lot’s of questions weaved in to properly assess and qualify the interest and desire of the prospect.   My ability to “taylor”, not control, the conversation made it possible to maintain credibility, be personal, and show that I care for the person I’m talking to.

In the family setting,  I’m trying to be more responsive to what I hear by consciously deciding to listen to a child or my spouse.   They are learning that they need to get my attention before talking, especially if I’m in the middle of doing something including just thinking about something.  I’ve had a couple of interruptions even while I’ve been writing this blog.  My wife has learned to clearly call my name, walk over in front me,  get eye contact and then start her communication.  I am learning to stop what I’m doing and give her focus and my listening effort.   Going out the door and yelling “don’t forget to pickup Marina at 5:00” just doesn’t communicate when I’m in another room.  I might get at best,  I think my wife yelled something.

Face to face is very helpful since there are more clues for what is going on.  Gestures, facial expressions, and even lip-reading may come into play.  There is so much assumed about definitions and the context of where the word is used.  Often those with audio-processing disorders miss the context and how the sequencing of words may set the context.  If actually communication is a goal, validating what you think you heard, and defining key words is a good habit.  However, the validating the intent of the communication may be done with different words than originally spoken so let the speaker know that “this might not be the same words you used but the intent of what I heard is….”   Otherwise, the first speaking might be intent on you parroting back the exact words and order that was spoken.   Most of us with audio-processing disorders have sequencing and memorization issues that goes way beyond correct pronunciation.  Language is linear and come in an order.  Processing, thinking, and memorizing for somebody like me is not linear and may not be language based.  Concepts, intent, diagrams, relationships between objects,  emotions associated with the communication, visual delivery might be easier for a dyslexic to remember than the words or the sequence of the words.

Dyslexic to Dyslexic

Communications between two dyslexics could be very easy or very hard depending upon the commonality of the disorder , the commonality of the understanding of the subject being discussed, and the common emotional views of the subject being discussed. Let me explain the best case.  Two dyslexics have the same audio-processing disorder and they have the same way of compensating for their communication weakness.  Let’s say the compensation is highly developed intuiting skills.   If the two dyslexics generally agreement on values related to the subject matter, and have similar understanding of the subject matter,  they can communicate and agree on a lot of comprehensive concepts with very few words exchange and really enjoy the conversation.

One dyslexic trying to teach another when their is little understanding or appreciation for their common disorder could be extremely difficult.  Arrogance or defensiveness generations emotions about self and the person your talking about which hinders the ability to process words coming in and words going out.  The more knowledgeable dyslexic can turn on the speed of delivery which reduces the possibility of understand by the second dyslexic.  However,  the 2nd dyslexic might “reject” the words which could be interpreted by the first as total disregard for what is being said.  So the lack of communication becomes interpreted as lack of respect for each other.  “I can’t listen to that” can be communicated as ” I don’t want to listen to that stuff, it’s not important”.  Then the response is “what do you know?” which deteriorates into “your stupid” and “your messed up you think you know something and your stupid too”.

Two dyslexic trying to help each other with words and meaning can get difficult too.  Each may restate what they heard the other say with different words so the other dyslexic thinks he was misunderstood which he probably was and try’s again using words different from the first time because he doesn’t even remember the words he used the first time so the listening get’s another interpreted meaning.  You’ve got five conversations going on:  1)the thinking of the first person; the inaccurately spoken communication of the first person; 3) the inaccurately processing by the 2nd person of what he thought he heard; 4) the inaccurate thinking of the 2nd person 5) the inaccurate communication of the 2nd person trying to communicate what he thought he heard through language.  Help! Get a mediator who can hear and accurately translate the words going back and forth to help bring the thinking together!

Foreign Languages

The phonics of Spanish was much easier than English.  Much more predictable pronunciation that English where word may have many deviations in spelling and pronunciation due to the Latin, French, and German roots and a lot of history from other languages.  My first couple of Spanish teachers taught by conversational training . . . lots of oral drills,  lots of practice, lots of parroting.  I didn’t understand my dyslexia then so I struggled with the memorization of the words and syntax.  My third Spanish teacher was great.  He taught the rules of making sentences,  the conjugation of verbs.  He gave me so much structure, diagrams, tables, etc.  I could memorize the rules and methods then call upon them in trying to speak accurately.  Not everyone learns by increasing the frequency and duration of conversation.  I needed and still need something more.

As a young man, I had a wonderful opportunity to be a missionary in Japan for two years.  For some reason my first companion and I were shipped directly to Japan without spending the common 2 months in Hawaii to practice the language.  My companion had his masters degree in Asian Studies which included Japanese classes.  This experience brought a lot of learning and I still had not understood my audio-processing disorder.

Good news.  In Japanese a vowel always sounds the same regardless of what consonant precedes it or follows it.  So I could learn the phonics of the language.  Bad news, at first everything sounded alike.  Where do words begin and end when so much sounds alike.  Thank goodness, the syntax and formation of sentences is very structured.  I learned how sentence begin and end by the speed, emphasis, and for men the pitch always goes lower and faster at the end of the sentence.  Books and study guides where helpful but I had to interact better than when I first started learning English.  The sentences ” What is this?”, “what does this mean” or “How do I say this in Japanese” where very common questions to help me learn, be corrected.  Listen, listen, listen.  Speak, speak, speak.  Validate, validate, validate.   After a few months my conversation Japanese was better than those missionaries that came over after two months of language training in Hawaii.

After year in the country, senior missionaries were called upon to translate which was a valuable exercise that use even to day to help remember what I’m hearing.  Literal translations are not possible since sometimes the exact word and definition in one language doesn’t exist in the other language.  Or you have 4 or 5 words to express something in one language to choose from and only 1 in the other.   Real-time translation is a matter of expressing in the second language the intent of what you heard in the first language.  You can’t get bogged down in picking the best words for the translation when you are translating a speaker as they are speaking.  However, to avoid great embarrassment you better get the intent, and choose the best words you can to communicate it.

Learning what words are most popular for a situation is very important to communicate.  The ESL student in Japan loved to talk to missionaries to validate from an American the accuracy of communication.  Sometime they used words whose meaning is correct but totally out of context in the usage.  This taught me the social side of communications.  To fit in you need to not only communicat with words that might have the right meaning but use words that were socially acceptable (“popular”) in that setting.  There a lot more to memorize than words, definitions, and sentence structure.  You need to listening to how people say things depending upon the circumstances which just doesn’t come easy to a person with audio-processing disorder.

College, Conferences and Continue Education

I always had problems being in school so long during the day.  Staying “on subject” in my listening was not easy when most teacher just used their voice and sometime maybe chalk to communicate.  In college, I liked the topics of symbolic logic, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, quantitative analysis, multi-dimensional calculus, and physics.  I just generally didn’t like the lectures the teachers would give.   Talk, talk, talk.  There were either showing off their great knowledge,  trying to be funny, or wanting to convert me to their value system.  Explain to me the scope of the test,  get me a study guide, and give me a book.  Attending class for my courses was so tedious and tiring.  Taking notes was the best thing I could do to stay focus until my notes turned into doodling and then carried away into art or my on thoughts.  Needless to say, I missed a lot of class time but I still got good grades.

In my career pursuits there was always subjects to study, books to read.  I have found that getting the study guides before reading the books, reviewing the table of contents, and in later life getting the audio book narration was very helpful.  To have a framework and multimedia for my studies helped out retention tremendously.  Also if I created a chart or diagram to summarize the people with some type of flow this would help my comprehension and retention of what I read.  I might even be listening to the audio while reading ahead in the book and then making notes on my charts at the some time.  Multi-media and multi-tasking on the same subject matter helps.  I truly get know the concept of being a 3D thinking.  I like interactivity, creativity, and multimedia with the time to pause and go off on related tangents all helps comprehension and retention even though it may tack more time than just reading a book.

Often the only way to learn for work activities is to go to conference where all I can do is listen, ask questions, and take lots of notes.  I tend to sit near the front and ask a lot of questions when the speaker allows it.  At the end of a day of a conference,  I’m tired, very tired of the work of processing the information in a way that I’ll be able to remember as much as possible.  I’m jealous of people that can just listen, understand, and remember without any work.