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Posted on Dec 1, 2015 in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Nonverbal Communication Cues

Body language is a form of communication that humans use to express their wants and emotions. As with speech, the autistic child has difficulty or no skill at all deciphering what a person is saying with facial expressions or body language. If you want someone to come closer, you wave to them. If you want somebody to know your angry, you usually have a scowl on your face. If you are sad or happy, you can see the emotion in your facial expression and how you move your body. The autistic child does not have an understanding or either body language of facial expression. They are in a world that is centered in themselves and the nuances of a gesture or hand motion is lost to them. Most autistic children have a hard time making eye contact during conversation. If the adult speaking or working with them does have this knowledge of no eye contact, it can be very for that adult to understand what is happening. It can be frustrating for both the adult and the child when that simple knowledge can save a lot of grief. The child may be listening to you and maybe even understand what you have said, but there attention and focus looks like it is on something else. The autistic child may not even be looking at what you are thinking they are looking at. Eye contact is a simple human reaction to communication and that reaction within them does not exist. Even the simple activity of pointing to something you want can be lost in translation to the untrained parent or teacher. If the child is pointing at a cookie, the cookie may not be the object of his or her desire. The cookie is a symbol that may represent that they are hungry, or it may be so abstract that the shape of the cookie, round, is the same shape as the toilet and they need to use the restroom. Even color may be an indication of a connection between a want and an abstract idea. It takes time and observation and a lot of out of the box thinking to link the communication patterns of an autistic individual. From Disabled World

Please note that the teacher should always have a plan for generalizing the skill. For instance, the next steps in the “identifying bored” lesson would be to develop strategies for when the student is talking to someone and that person appears bored.  When the student identifies cues for boredom in another person, what should he/she do next? Should he/she ask the other person a question? Should he/she change the topic? Should he/she end the conversation?  This should be practiced with as many different people as possible in a controlled setting. Next, the teacher must plan for incidental trials throughout the school day.

Another tip for the teacher is to always identify why a skill is being taught, and how the students will use that skill. For the “why” part, be sure to relate the importance of the skill to how it affects the student with ASD. Many students with ASD simply don’t care if people like them; however, all people care how others treat them.  Because of this, one can typically relate a student’s social impressions to how he/she is treated.

Download a worksheet to teach non-verbal communication cues here.
Please Note: This sheet can be used for identifying bored or any emotion. Fill in the emotion to observe in the box at the top of the page and in the blanks provided to customize this sheet for your lesson.

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This video was filmed at Glasgow High School.