Non-verbal Communication


Non-verbal Communication

As promised last week I am going to talk about my observations of non-verbal communication. It is amazing how relevant these topics become when you really start to focus and think about them.

This past Friday we held a teacher workshop at Horizons talking about the core deficits of autism and ways that school personnel can make changes to improve those deficits. Of course one of the topics and activities that we talk about is communication. Nicole started this portion of the workshop by showing the short film One Man Band which is on the Cars dvd. I had never seen this short film, but it is an excellent example of how non-verbal communication can be used to convey an entire story. No words are used in this film, but the meaning can be derived simply by the actions, expressions and music made by the characters. Amazing!

Following this we split the attendees into groups and give each group a prop to use together. The rule is that there is no talking allowed, but they must find a way to use the material together as a group. This is one of my favorite activities because I love to see how people will try to communicate and work together without words. Some of the groups had no problem. One person took charge and then the others followed such as the bean bag group. They divided the bean bags equally and then began tossing them one at a time into the bucket. The card group also divided up the cards and then started to drop them on the floor into sorted number groups. The first person to get rid of all of their cards won. However the group that had the index cards, tape, scissors and paper clips started by sharing the materials, but then just worked independently of each other. No true communication going on or cooperation other than if someone needed the scissors or tape. The amount of gestures and animated facial expressions increased during this exercise. I think it is fascinating to see how different people try to communicate especially with people they don’t know.

As far as my other observations go I was walking down the hall behind a teacher and a student one day here at school. The student began by following her teacher, but when he put his hand behind his back and used a gesture to indicate that she should walk next to him she immediately interpreted that gesture and moved to walk by him. One night a few weeks ago we were meeting with a group of parents while Nicole was talking I was observing and one parent had his head turned and was looking off to the side with a passive look on his face. I wondered if he was listening. A few minutes later he came up with a great question that proved he had been listening, but his non-verbals sure weren’t communicating that. One more great example, yesterday I went to a classroom to pick up a student with asd for his speech session. As I went into the room I had my arms folded across my chest. He said to me “Why are you nervous?” After standing there for a minute stunned and trying to think why he would say that it hit me that he was interpreting my folded arms as my being nervous. I quickly assured him I wasn’t nervous just cold. Just think if that is the way he was interpreting my folded arms how often we guess what other people are thinking by what their body is telling us and how wrong we might be.

So for my words of wisdom this week just be careful of what your non-verbal communication might really be “saying” to other people. Next week I’ll be talking about processing as it relates to communication.

Till then,

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