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Nonverbal Communication: What’s it all about? Part 3

We use 8 different types of nonverbal communication without even thinking about it. What are they and how do these skills affect children with developmental disabilities? Part 2 of 3. 


This is part 2 of a 3 part series on nonverbal communication in children.

By the time most children are one year old, they are experts in nonverbal communication.  They have spent the whole first year of their lives making their wants and needs known, as well as sharing their experiences through nonverbal channels.  Around the time of their first birthday, they add the next layer to their dynamic communication repertoire with the verbal piece.  Even with the addition of verbal communication, nonverbal expression continues to be the main mode of communication for children as they add more and more words to their vocabulary.  Even after children are talking in sentences, nonverbal communication continues to add meaning and structure to the messages being sent and received.
 
This use and understanding of nonverbal communication becomes automatic for ‘neuro-typical’ children.  It is so automatic that many of us are completely unaware that we employ facial expressions and gestures, or that we are using this information to enhance the words we are hearing from our communication partner.   We continue to use this mode of communication throughout life.

Think about the word “no,” which can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the nonverbal communication that is being conveyed along with the word.  If we say “noooo” with a wrinkled nose and a questioning tone or funny voice, this could convey that we are unsure or don’t really believe what we are hearing.  If we hear someone say “NO!” with a loud, or harsh voice, we can interpret that they person is angry or wants an action to be terminated.  If someone asks you if you would like a drink, you may answer with “no”; but your tone of voice will most likely be even with little inflection, and your face may just be neutral.  In each of these examples the person was saying “no,” but there were three different meanings being conveyed.  Without nonverbal communication, it would be difficult to know how to interpret the word. 

Many children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty interpreting multiple modes of communication, and because of this they often miss the nonverbal communication piece that allows accurate interpretation of what is said.  In the examples provided above, most children with autism spectrum disorders would only hear the word “no” but miss the nonverbal pieces which help to interpret which “no” is being communicated.  This misinterpretation can lead to frustration on the part of both the communicator and the child who is struggling to understand what is happening.  At other times, the child may interpret a facial expression, tone of voice, or gesture but not hear the words that went with the nonverbal, which again results in miscommunication.  These breakdowns make it difficult for the child to make sense of his/her world. 

In part 3Article Submission, I will explain how we can improve nonverbal communication so children can participate with people around them with fewer misunderstandings.



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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Autism specialist Courtney Kowalczyk, of the Horizons Developmental Remediation Center, provides practical information and advice for families living with autism and other developmental disabilities. If you are ready to reduce your stress level, enrich your child’s development, aspergers children and improve your family’s quality of life, get your FREE reports now at ==> www.HorizonsDRC.com




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