Improving Non-Verbal Communication with Cross-Cultural Exercises

Learning and improving non-verbal communication skills are difficult for children with Asperger’s. By providing an multidimensional approach, your child will have more opportunities to learn and succeed. The following approach has three important components: 1) building bodily self-awareness and a relaxed, comfortable body sense; 2) learning non-verbal social interaction as a science and practicing non-verbal interactions while making scientific observations, and 3) practicing non-verbal communication in a nonjudgmental, unconditionally loving environment on a regular basis.

  • 1) HELP YOUR CHILD BUILD BODY AWARENESS: Sitting in front of the computer or television does not help your child develop body awareness or practice social interaction. Limit screen time of any kind to an hour a day outside of school. Try substituting some of the following activities:
    • T’ai Ch’i classes are excellent for fostering moment by moment awareness of the physical self and its connection to the internal self through slow precise movements. Using structured positions or forms, and controlled breathing, this activity can engender a deep sense of peacefulness as well.
    • Yoga is another activity using body control, mind-body awareness, and deep breathing exercises resulting in body awareness and greater physical (and mental) health. DVD/Video programs are available at most libraries, but it is best to start by taking an actual class from a trained instructor.
    • Ballet and other serious dance classes offer some similar advantages, but may be more competitive and challenging for teens with Asperger’s.
    • Swimming, running, and other sports where the individual does not depend directly on other players for personal achievement can help to build body awareness and confidence as well as physical health and coordination. Talk to the coach or instructor about your child’s specific needs beforehand.
    • Basic and Advanced First Aid classes, available regularly in every community, offer short, intensive, yet inexpensive methods helping read body cues and signs in other people as well as paying attention to one’s own body cues. These classes are all about treating stressed individuals with care and awareness for what is happening to the body and emotions. They can help the teen with Asperger’s focus on body language and how we communicate, both verbally and nonverbally, during emergencies. Plus, you’ll have another family member capable of responding in a crisis.
  • 2) LEARNING NON-VERBAL SOCIAL INTERACTION AS A SCIENCE: Helping your teen see how non-verbal social interactions affect his or her life can be studied through ascientific approach. Your child can learn to verbalize and describe nonverbal communication patterns.. This skill is probably hard to learn only because most people learn and practice nonverbal communication unconsciously in their daily lives. Certain professions, however, have explicit methods for describing nonverbal communication scientifically: anthropologists, law enforcement professionals, judges, psychologists, and visual artists who study gesture. By reading even a little of the literature, and/or finding a mentor from one of these professions to introduce this concept, you can help your child see his or her own nonverbal communication, and that of others. Once perceived objectively, much nonverbal communication can be learned like any other school subject or team sport. Use the following exercises in the sequence provided.
    • Read a chapter from one of the books listed below together, or facilitate a discussion about nonverbal communication and body language with a professional from one of the categories listed above.
    • Give your teen a new, hardcover notebook, and explain that this is his or her professional book for “field notes”. Have your teen spend 15-20 minutes every day for two weeks, or every 2 or 3 days for at least two months, observing people in busy public spaces such as a mall or bus station then write observations about nonverbal communication. You may want to help your child ask certain scientific questions such as, “How far away from each other do people stand when they are talking to each other?” or “What do people’s faces look like when another person is talking very loudly near them?”
    • If he or she likes to draw, have him include sketches of people’s gestures as they relate to each other. While gesture drawing is often offered only to advanced art students, a good art teacher can explain the basic principles to your child and may even suggest an appropriate art class.
    • Ask your child to share the notebook with you and discuss the observations. Have them describe it as a set of data that can be useful for his or her everyday life. A useful observation might read, “the people here stand, walk, and talk about eighteen inches to two feet apart from each other, except when it is a couple or a parent and child together.” Or, “People nod and look at each other’s eyes when they talk.”
    • With your help, or the help of a counselor, have your child write down a list of nonverbal communication “rules” for his or her own culture and community based on the observations documented in the field notebook. Read these aloud together and post them where your child will see them every day. As the field study progresses, other people in the family may become interested and want to participate. Encourage their participation, but remember to honor your child with Asperger’s as the lead researcher.
    • Now your child is ready to interact with the social world using a professional research tool, “participant observation”. As he or she interacts within the school or community, he or she should make mental notes or observations about viewed interactions, and write them at the end of the day. Help your child remember to write a few notes at the end of each day, in another section of the field notebook while reminding him or her to be objective about what happened. While you want to be sympathetic to your child’s failures, help him or her to note personal successes and failures as additions to the field data. Teach that failures are good learning opportunities.
  • PRACTICING NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION IN A NON-JUDGMENTAL, UNCONDITIONALLY LOVING ENVIRONMENT ON A REGULAR BASIS. This component is critical for your child’s emotional health and well-being, particularly as he or she challenges him or herself to learn new skills in what is, for children with Asperger’s, confusing and foreign territory.

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The team behind Your Little Professor is dedicated to providing factual information for parents and caretakers of adolescents on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. We believe in connecting families to the necessary resources in order to help individuals on the spectrum succeed in day-to-day life.