Jim Durkel Listen to Jim Durkel’s advice on how families can support their child’s sensory efficiency in the area of listening skills.


Hi, I’m Jim Durkel. I’m an outreach teacher with the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach Program. My first professions actually were as a speech-language pathologist and audiologist, and I worked so much with students that were deaf-blind that I came to Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and joined the Outreach Program as a deaf-blind specialist, and while here, went on and got my training as a teacher for the visually impaired.

Jim, what would you like to ask families to do at home?

At home! So in the past, vision professionals, I think, made a mistake, and we told parents to talk non-stop to their children with visual impairments. We said say everything that you’re doing. When you’re washing the dishes, talk about everything that you’re doing with the dishes. When you’re making the bed, talk about making the bed. The second that the child is up, you should start talking until that child goes to sleep. We don’t do that, that was wrong advice. Because when you do that, when you give that sort of steady narration, the child again becomes very, very passive, and it’s not what the child needs, and they don’t know how to connect that word “bed sheet” with the actual sheet or “pillowcase” with the pillowcase. They’re just hearing words. And our children can become very good at saying those words back but not really knowing what that word is connected to. So what we want to do is talk with our children while they are actively engaged with something. So while they’re helping us make the bed, and they’re holding the pillowcase, we can say, “Yeah, that’s the pillowcase. We’re going to put the pillowcase on the pillow. Now we have to put the bedspread on. Yup, this really big one that goes over the whole bed,” while the child is touching those things so they really know what we’re talking about. So one thing we have to do at home is to make sure that when we’re talking, the child has got contact and really knows where the words go.

We also want to make sure that children are listening with the brain. You hear with the ears, but you listen with the brain. So you want, occasionally, to make sure the child’s really listening to you. How often do we have a spouse or a child, an older child maybe, where we know we’re talking and they keep saying “Uh huh, uh huh. Yes, mom. Yes, dear. Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh.” And they really have not heard a single word that we’ve said. With our kids with visual impairments, that can become even harder, and an easier thing to have happen. So we want to periodically ask questions to see did the child really understand. “Where are you supposed to put your shoes? Do your socks go in the drawer or under your bed?” Asking those things to make sure the child really has heard and really understands because it might be that they heard but they really don’t know what the difference between under the bed and in the drawer is, and then that’s a whole other problem. But if we don’t ask, we’re not going to know where the breakdown is. And if we just keep assuming that they’re understanding everything that they’re hearing, we could be in trouble down the road. So, we really want to make sure the child is listening with their brain, that they’re thinking.

Now, the last thing that I want to say is that I just talked about listening with the child during TV and music, and now I’m going to contradict myself a little bit or add to that a little bit, and say it’s ok to listen to music, it’s ok to listen to the TV, but turn them off when you want to have a conversation. It’s not good for anybody to try to listen in noise. Trying to tell your child something important—have an important conversation—when there’s background music going on, when the TV’s on, when they’re sitting in the back seat of a car, and you’re in the front seat and you’re driving is not the time to really be giving important information to the child. They’re just not going to hear as well, so they’re not going to listen as well, there’s going to be too many distractions. So, you know, some quiet is a real good thing. We really need quiet to help improve listening skills.