What’s The Problem With Whole Body Listening?

****The Listening Larry images parodied here are the intellectual property of Social Thinking, but shown here as part of a critique in the public interest (intended in good faith as a fair use) and done without compensation on our part. – PACLA team****

Many of you have seen the poster for “Whole Body Listening”.  It’s in pretty much every special education classroom.   In the poster, Larry basically shames Autistic children because they do not listen or communicate the way that typical children do.   I am not a fan of Ableist Larry and I am horrified that this is the message we are giving to Autistic children.

For reference, this is Ableist Larry:

Poster for

Poster for “Whole Body Listening” A cartoon drawing of a child, “Larry” points at a chart with images of various body parts and tips for “whole body listening”
Eyes: Look at the person talking to you
Ears: Both ears ready to hear
Mouth: Quiet, no talking, humming or making sounds
Hands: Quiet, in lap, pockets or by your side
Feet: Quiet on the floor
Body: Faces the speaker
Brain: Thinking about what is being said
Heart: Caring about what the other person is saying

This was posted on the wall of a friend, and another friend remarked that someone needed to make posters to teach Larry about his own ableism.

So, here is the poster that NEEDS to be in the classrooms of Autistic children.  This is what teachers and professionals and parents NEED to understand about Autistic neurology:

What's the Problem With Whole Body Listening?   Ableist Larry used to shame Autistic people about whole body listening but now he knows better.  Image of a cartoon boy presenting a list of body parts with this text: Eye contact can be physically painful for some. You don't have to look to be good at listening! Your ears can do their job all by themselves!  Sometimes verbal stims help us to process and that's okay if making sounds helps you listen & learn! Flappy hands are happy hands! Your hands can be loud & proud and you can still listen! You can move your feet & walk around, that won't stop your ears from listening or learning!   It can even help  you to do those things! Your body is yours and you can move it however you need to.  Your boundaries are just as important as anybody else's!  Your brain is always thinking, even when others do not understand!  Your brain is awesome exactly as it is! Your heart is caring about others, and you deserve the same in return!  Ableist Larry is working on his ableist assumptions about Autistic people!  Share this poster with others to help them learn too!

What’s the Problem With Whole Body Listening?
Ableist Larry used to shame Autistic people about whole body listening but now he knows better.
Image of a cartoon boy presenting a list of body parts with this text:
Eye contact can be physically painful for some.
You don’t have to look
to be good at listening!
Your ears can do their job
all by themselves!
Sometimes verbal stims help
us to process and that’s okay
if making sounds helps you
listen & learn!
Flappy hands are happy hands!
Your hands can be loud & proud
and you can still listen!
You can move your feet &
walk around, that won’t stop
your ears from listening or learning! It can even help
you to do those things!
Your body is yours and you can move it however you need to. Your boundaries
are just as important as anybody else’s!
Your brain is always thinking, even when others do not understand! Your brain is awesome exactly as it is!
Your heart is caring about others, and you deserve the same in return!
Ableist Larry is working on his ableist assumptions about Autistic people! Share this poster with others to help them learn too!

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About Lei

PACLA is an Autistic friendly space dedicated to guiding parents toward respectful supports and accommodations for their Autistic children through the concepts of gentle parenting and a belief in the value of neurodiversity.

Posted on March 25, 2015, in Parenting Autistic Children with Love and Acceptance. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hi, I really like your poster describing the problems with “whole body listening.” My son was diagnosed at age 12, and is now 19.
    After his diagnosis, I educated myself. Sadly, I have found it necessary to educate teachers, principals, counsellors, judges, police officers and even therapists that have been part of our journey.
    When he turned 18, it became necessary find one to replace the pediatric psychiatrist that he had been seeing since 4th grade. At the first appointment with his current psychiatrist, she focused almost solely on the fact that he didn’t make eye contact!!! It was absurd. I asked her if she had any understanding about Aspergers, she assured me that she did…as she forced my son to look her in the eye. As if that would solve his difficulties with intense social anxiety and depression/suicidal ideation.

    Anyway, I’m writing to ask if you may know where I might find some reference material regarding the statement that “Eye Contact can be physically painful for some.” I would very much like to pass the information on to his psychiatrist.

    Like

    • I think that if your psychiatrist is not listening to your son’s lived experience as an Autistic, person, he might need a new psychiatrist. I’m an Autistic adult and it is physically painful for me, and many Autistics that I know. The problem with research is that it is rarely done with respect for Autistic people, so there is not much out there on why eye contact is harmful….unless you talk to Autistics. Forcing people to do things they are not comfortable with is abusive, in my opinion.

      Like

  2. The title of this really bugged me. I was thinking about people I know who need to doodle or knit in order to pay attention. I was picturing my son, rocking or bouncing, but fully aware of what is going on around. In other words, I was imagining whole body listening in a much different way than listed on that first poster.
    Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The heart part is the most disturbing to me. It is emotional policing. How many Autistics get told we “don’t care” to the point of being gaslighted about our own emotions. Sometimes the person we need to care about the most, especially when abusive things are being communicated, is ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this. My son just had his first therapy appointment since being diagnosed with ASD and I was surprised that the psychologist apparently spent the whole time teaching him about Whole Body Listening. He didn’t seem distressed but I had misgivings about it because that isn’t how I listen myself. I find it hard to look at people and listen to them at the same time. It’s not that it’s painful. It’s just I find it hard to take in too much information at once. So when I’m looking at the person, I am often just pretending to listen and don’t take anything in. I always fidget (or draw) as well! If I have to keep still, I find it takes so much attention that I can’t concentrate on listening and miss what the person is saying. I find it hard to process what they are saying in real time, so even though I try to “care about what the other person is saying” sometimes there is a lag and I miss their intention and always feel bad about that.

    Anyway, enough about me I guess. We are there for my son. He seems fine with it, but it seems somewhat orthogonal to the problems we have. He has anxiety and can be quite inflexible about things. I feel like I’m relying on the psychologist to inform me on what I’m supposed to want my child to be like to an extent. So far I have just been taking him as he is, but then his anxiety around people has got so bad after he started preschool that I took him to the doctor. Now we have all these goals I didn’t know we had. I don’t know if achieving them is actually going to help though. It is quite confusing. I don’t know if anyone will read this, but if you have any advice about communicating your desire to just focus on solving problems that are actually problems FOR your child, rather than problems for others, that would be great!

    The psychologist is very friendly and nice and I feel bad being contrary and raising problems with her suggestions all the time. I know I’m not a great parent and I don’t know what I’m doing, but at the same time I don’t want just completely submit to their way of doing things either.

    Like

    • First of all, do not feel bad about being contrary or raising these issues. You are there to advocate with your child and that is what you are doing! It can be difficult to get professionals who are immersed in the pathology paradigm to understand what autistic people actually need! And what we need is not to imitate everyone else, but to be supported and accommodated so that we can be the best autistic person that we can be. A lot of times, professionals will say that being compliant/enforcing their version of “normalcy” will “protect” the autistic child but it does not. It not only does not protect us, but it actually makes us even more vulnerable to abuse and bullying. I would suggest finding the words and writings of autistic adults who have been in your child’s place to share with these professionals. A really good place to start might be this list from our friends at Unbound Books Autism Acceptance Library:

      https://lanathomas209.wixsite.com/unboundbooks/autistic-people-and-aba-survivors-o

      Like

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