When Little Ears Hear More Than They Ever Should

Last summer I showed my then 9 year old how to answer my mobile phone. Her twin brother was having major seizures and she wanted to help me. I tought her to answer and when possible pass the phone to me. Despite being autistic she worked it out and did exactly what I needed her to every time.

She was proud of herself and felt like she was helping.

I was proud of her too.

In the last year she has started to answer calls on the home phone too and is doing a great job of saying who is calling and passing the phone to me when needed. It’s a huge life skill and one which she has been excelling at. Up until today though I had no issues with her answering any calls.

Today I was driving with just the two of us in the car. I was on my way to collect her friend with her for a play date. Not long before we arrived at her friend’s house my mobile phone rang and Naomi readily answered it. Unfortunately it was a call she should never have heard.

Naomi’s twin brother is sick, very sick in fact. He has a brain tumour and is about to have invasive surgery followed by treatment. While I have spoken to Naomi about this in ways she understands (she describes his tumour as slime in his brain) the phone call today was one she should never have heard. Apparently the call started by asking if it was the family of Isaac. Of course my daughter answered ‘yes’. The caller then said that Isaac was to come to hospital immediately to be admitted for an undecided period of time so that he could have some urgent tests and then surgery on his brain. I don’t in any way fault the hospital as they had no way of knowing they were talking to a ten year old but the things said in that call were not ideal for little ears.

The day before I had taken both my children to another medical appointment. This time it was a community paediatrician who had never met my children before. Both of my ten year olds had to sit though a very long conversation between myself and that paediatrician while I outlined my concerns about them both. While the conversation was necessary, once again it wasn’t suitable for little ears.

So many children with additional support needs are hearing things that little ears should never hear. They are in meetings when adults discuss concerns, missed milestones, social difficulties and medical issues about them all whilst their ears can hear. I’ve been talking to my daughter so much about this as I try and help her work through her issues but as she says even sitting in a waiting room isn’t ideal: ‘Even if I was outside waiting or in class it wouldn’t matter as I would still know I am being talked about mum.’

Children hear a lot more than we realise. They overhear phone calls, hear discussions of adults while they play and they hear when medical staff mention things. They hear above TV, YouTube and other background noises. They pick up vibes, atmospheres and worries. Sometimes they even answer calls you would prefer they hadn’t.

I’m trying to help my child process the fact her twin brother is ill but now I need to help her understand and process things she has heard that she really should be protected from.

What goes into little ears changes children. Some of those words become their inner voice, other repeat loudly like an echo for years to come and others affect their self esteem for the rest of their lives.

I’m not a huge advocate of sheltering children from life completely. I don’t think that helps prepare them for the world they will live in as adults very well. However I am a huge advocate of protecting little ears from things that they are not ready to hear yet because their minds are not fully ready.

Right now I am having to work through some difficulties with my ten year old because her little ears heard more than they really should have. Sadly I am not alone.

We put parental controls on technology to prevent little ears from hearing words we don’t want them too, we have children’s TV channels designed to protect vulnerable children from the adult world yet we put our most vulnerable addition needs children in situations daily that cause their little ears to hear more than they should.

Isn’t it time we thought of a better way forward?

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10 thoughts on “When Little Ears Hear More Than They Ever Should

  1. Aw bless her. I bet that was a scary call for her. I admit it does bug me that all our meetings are with J in the room. Yes he may only be 4 but I don’t like him hearing us talk about the negative sides of his autism and issues. As he gets older he can get involved and possibly understand what it’s for more but at the moment I worry he just things we’re saying bad things about him. As you said their ears pick up everything x

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  2. I couldn’t agree more. Parent of children with additional needs are forced into having conversations about their children with education and healthcare professionals which it is just not fair on the children to hear – and often there is nothing you can do about it. Particularly when it comes to PIP – which your child is forced to apply for in place of DLA from their 16th birthday. This experience was, for us, shocking. When you have made a huge effort to encourage your child, celebrate their achievements and create a nurturing, supportive atmosphere at home, to have to undo all of this in order to be able to accurately portray just how different they are from their peers in front of an unsympathetic PIP assessor is devastating. When your autistic daughter asks you afterwards in a small voice, “Am I really that bad, mummy?” it cuts deep. Our cruel system is so stacked against vulnerable children and young people who have neurological differences and mental health problems. Thank you for highlighting this important issue.

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  3. YES! I remember being a child and not understanding what was said around me, but still feeling like it was about me or something I’d done. I remember feeling bad. I remember feeling like it was all my fault.
    Our little ones with different brains are already trying to understand the world around them, they don’t need BIG things that they have no way of processing.
    My thoughts are with you and your family 🙏🍀💌💌💌💌

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  4. Many years ago I turned down half a CAMHS appointment for an ASD assessment and said I needed a different/extra one …. they had offered me a double appointment for my 2 younger children as they thought this would be easier for me. At the time I could not drive and the appointment was 20+ miles away and took over 1.5 hrs each way by public transport.
    I pointed out that I needed 2 appointments as each child was entitled to their own appointment without the other child being present.
    I have also at times demanded (and that is the correct word) appointments WITHOUT my children as I needed to talk to the doctors without those ‘little ears’ listening in.

    I too feel that everyone, including siblings, is entitled to privacy and these ‘joint’ appointments don’t provide this.

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  5. Awwww my heart is breaking reading this post. I am sending huge hugs to you. Something really needs to change. Surely the doctor on that call could have asked for you? I really am so sorry and i am thinking of you all. Xxx

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  6. So true I remember sitting in an NHS appointment with my daughter present while the consultant pointed out all the problems surrounding her Sensory processing Difficulties. I was so mad and she was very hurt by what they said.

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  7. This is such an important point. I agree that sheltering our kids doesn’t work either. It’s almost impossible not to have conversations with therapists, drs and teachers about concerns in front of our kids and as you say it is all going in those little ears.

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  8. I’ve tried extra hard to not have meetings about my child in front of her, unless the meeting was for her, if that makes sense. And I don’t talk about her to others, but… having said that, I do in a way as I’ve been writing the blog. Food for thought, as always. Sending huge hugs for the time ahead x

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  9. I definitely don’t think it helps our children when they have to hear doctors, teachers etc talk negatively about them, outlining all the things they struggle with, all their differences etc. I’ve tried as far as possible to only take our son along if really necessary.
    How frightening that phone call must have been for Naomi. Big hugs to you all xx

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