Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Body Talk, Teaching Students with Disabilities about Body Language

Every so often, I get a surprise in the mail. In April, Woodbine House sent me a review copy of Body Talk, Teaching Students with Disabilities about Body Language by Pat Crissey. I was given a copy of this book at no charge to me to review for you on my blog. I am not obligated to provide a positive review. The opinions here are my own.

Crissey provides six chapters focusing on non-verbal "channels" of communication (emotions, facial expressions, posture, body orientation and eye gaze, personal space and touching, gestures) and a seventh chapter for putting them all together. A book description is available here.

Body Talk is meant to be used in a classroom setting, although parents working with children at home may find some of the information and activities useful and many of the activities can be adapted for small groups or a single child.

As I study Body Talk, I realize that through our developmental approaches of intervention, we have given our daughter w/ an ASD experience in many of the skills mentioned in the book by Pat Crissey, and the experience we have given her has happened via real-life, in-context, between-you-and-me situations.  I would not want to teach a child some of these skills through worksheets and activities from a book like this one. I have been fortunate to have had coaching to help me give my child experience in these areas of body language without sitting her down to a worksheet or group activity out of context. I'll just come out and say it: Crissey's approach is not my favorite approach.

In our own experience at my house, with the help of a professional, we learned to use ourselves differently with our child with autism. We were given goals and objectives and we were given coaching on how to give our daughter experience and practice in the goal and objective. I think of an image of a stage that is filled with too much stuff, so much that concentrating on the actor at center stage is difficult. Dim the lights on the stage, put a single spotlight on the actor, and the distractions disappear. We work in real-life-between-you-and-me  moments during our day that are in context where we slow down and give her the processing time she needs to be mindful and respond. 

We taught our daughter to gesture by gesturing. We teach her to communicate non-verbally by 'non-verbaling". (I made up that term.) When we were given the assignment to slow down, be quiet, and use more gestures in order to spotlight them, our daughter began gesturing naturally without a single worksheet or program or direct prompt. We began gesturing with her in an intentional way and giving her the time to process and respond and all of a sudden, she was gesturing as she interacted with us. That blew my mind. We'd never given her the opportunities before. Slowing down, being quiet, waiting, giving her processing and response time (45-60 seconds) made her an active participant.

Body Talk takes those goals and objectives that we work into our days rather invisibly and turns them into visible, concrete worksheets and activities. Implicit vs explicit learning. I desire more implicit learning for my child as I have seen the benefits of implicit learning and the shortcomings of explicit learning. I don't want my child to study the difference between relaxed and tense postures in a worksheet at a conscious level. I want her to experience them between people and sense them without stopping to consciously think about whether that person's posture is relaxed or tense.

If you are a parent or professional looking for a workbook with ideas and worksheets and activities to teach body language from the outside in, explicitly, I think you'll like this resource. This is a teacher resource for a class or group of students.  If you are like me, working on implicit, from the inside-out learning, you may still like Body Talk for the lists of objectives and goals you can create from the information inside. Body Talk becomes a resource to help me check off some skills and to make a list of skills we need to spotlight and focus on outside of a worksheet. I would recommend Body Talk for what to teach but not how to teach it.

Priced at $29.95, the book is available from Woodbine House here. Body Talk is a 300 page paperback in an 8.5 x 11 easy-to-photocopy format that comes with a companion CD-ROM of activities, printables, information.

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