Overhearing: A Reason to Celebrate!

May 26, 2017

By: Shefali Shah

I try hard to suppress my laughter everytime one of our youngsters uses the “S***!” word in therapy. It may be a toy that unexpectedly slips from their hand or a hard to open box that triggers this exclamation but either way, it is clearly something that no adult has taught the young child. How then did s/he learn it? By overhearing. That makes it a moment for celebration.

What is Overhearing?

Carol Flexer (2011) presents the powerful evidence that 90% of what children with typical hearing learn is by overhearing. Overhearing is the listening behaviour that facilitates children learning spontaneously; without being specifically taught.The combination of Early Intervention and modern hearing technology makes it possible for today’s generation of babies and young children with hearing loss to hone their listening skills so that they too overhear. In doing so they truly integrate listening into their overall personality. This is the aim of Principle 6 in Auditory-Verbal Therapy.

What is the significance of Overhearing?

Parents and family know only too well that their baby or young child with hearing loss, must be taught to listen. Further, every word that their child understands has been taught in those early years. As Auditory-Verbal Therapy with optimal amplification (hearing aids or cochlear implants) progresses, the pace at which their child with hearing loss learns becomes faster, enabling more than twelve months progress in twelve months’ time. During this time parents discover to their delight that they need to resort to spelling out secrets to each other, so that their child doesn’t overhear!

A mother engages her child in listening, in an Auditory-Verbal Therapy session at Sound Steps

Overhearing: A Reason to Celebrate!

Why is overhearing a significant milestone?

Once your child begins to overhear, s/he is no longer dependent on you for information or learning. It marks the beginning of your child being able to learn and live life comfortably in whichever environment s/he happens to be placed.


1. connects the child to his or her environment, giving them a strong sense of belonging. Eg. family discussing ‘secretively’ gifts for an approaching birthday; friends planning ‘surprises’

2. closes the child’s developmental gap and facilitates age-appropriate development. Eg. vocabulary and concepts are are rooted in family conversations or class discussion

3. facilitates a smoother transition to becoming socially comfortable within a group. Eg. the child is able to pick up “cool” language and is able to follow abrupt changes in the course of play and/or converstion.

4. facilitates the development of rich vocbaulary and correct grammar. Eg. the acquistion of grammatical markers that are often in unstressed positions: pronouns /this/,/that/,the plural marker, the possessive marker, the use of the verb form /is/ Vs /are/.

One of my favourite messages is from a Dad at Sound Steps who texted me to tell me that just as the family were secretly planning to buy their daughter’s favourite ice-cream as a surprise for her, she quipped "I just heard you. Don’t think I can’t!"