Thursday, December 31, 2009

Non-verbal Communication: Conversations Using *Only* Faces

I like to write about the a-ha moments that stand out for me, the moments where a concept really began to sink in. I hope my anecdotes help you to look at autism intervention in a new way. I wish that someone had told me about some of these developmental concepts much sooner. Here's a story from my journal:

Two years ago, one of our RDI(r) objectives involved the concept of having conversations using just our faces. There are other ways to communicate non-verbally, but we needed to spend time on faces at that particular point in time.

When we are assigned a new objective by our RDI(r) Program Certified Consultant, I have to ponder it for a few days, and I usually begin seeing evidence of the objective all around me, which helps me understand it's importance in a do-over.

Within a day or so of being assigned this particular objective (which is more specific than the version I summarized for you, here), I was driving the sibs to school, slowing down to make a right turn onto the street of the elementary school. That corner is quite busy, and there are children walking to school who cross that street from two different directions.

I've noticed over time (episodic memory) that the crossing guard stays in the warm comfort of her van until she is needed to escort children across the street, and if the crossing guard is standing outside her van, I can follow her gaze (perspective taking, attention shifting) and tell from which direction the students are walking.

One morning, the crossing guard was unusually close to the street, and her position alerted me to the idea that there were probably children approaching the crosswalk, and the silent conversation began.

I slowed down, prepared to make my right turn, and could tell from the direction of her gaze where the children were coming from, and they were pretty close to crossing the street where I was about to make my turn. So I had to shift my attention back to her, intentionally look to her, using my face to ask an unspoken but extremely important question, and receive an answer from her face and gestures. Was she going to let me go first, or was she going to have me stop, and let the children go first? We had to have a conversation using just our faces. She had to know that I saw her, that I would stop, before she would let the children cross the street.

Once I recognized several examples in my day where I relied on faces for conversation, I was ready to tackle the assignment and make some discoveries of my own. When a child doesn't take the initiative to monitor facial expressions, like I had to monitor the face of the crossing guard, the parents and professionals around that child behave differently, and we tend to overcompensate. I had to learn to quit feeding learned helplessness, use myself in new ways, so that my daughter could make some new discoveries.

What a different journey the developmental path has been...

PS: If you own the DVD version of the movie, Cars, check out the bonus feature called, "One Man Band". Count the number of verbal exchanges and the number of non-verbal, faces-only exchanges. It's quite an education for such a short film and worth renting or borrowing from the library if you don't own the DVD.

1 comment:

The Glasers said...

I remember having a nonverbal conversation with a check-out clerk. I was standing at the end of a long line and everyone was looking ahead. I saw movement out of my peripheral and it was a check-out clerk opening up a new line, trying to get my attention. Since he was at the opposite end of the store, we had to communicate nonverbally. He waved me over and I pointed to myself with a questioning look on my face. He nodded, so I headed on over.

It pays to pay attention to the people around you! LOL

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