HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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Helping Aspergers Children Develop Nonverbal Communication Skills

Question

My Aspergers son doesn’t seem to understand others’ nonverbal messages, and he isn’t very good at sending clear nonverbal messages either. Are there ways to teach nonverbal communication?

Answer

Aspergers (high functioning autism) children appear to experience a lack of reciprocity in social interactions. This means the child does not fully understand nonverbal communication (e.g., gestures, facial expressions, etc.) and may continue a conversation even though the person he is talking to is confused about - or disinterested in - the subject matter. In addition, the Aspergers child may not use nonverbal communication himself, and as a result, may appear expressionless in most conversations or interactions with others.

There are lots of ways you can help your son improve his nonverbal communication skills by playing simple games.

Here are some ideas to help him improve his understanding of nonverbal messages:

1. Find some old magazines and ask your son to cut out pictures of people. After you have a selection of pictures, ask him to identify what the people in each picture are feeling. You may also talk with your son about how he made those choices. A similar exercise may be done with pictures of faces.

2. Look through magazines and cut out pictures of people wearing different types of clothing. Discuss with your son where each of these people is probably going, and what type of activity they might do when they get there. Also discuss where each type of outfit might be inappropriate and how people would react if someone showed up wearing it.

3. Tell or “hum” a story without using words. Let changes in your voice convey excitement, fear, happiness, and so forth. Ask your son to describe what the story was about and discuss differences between your son’s interpretations and your intended meanings.

4. Watch television together and ask your son to observe the ways that actors use their eyes to convey meaning. Talk with your son about what differences in eye contact mean (e.g., long and intense eye contact usually signals that something important is being said; prolonged looking away while talking may indicate dishonesty or disinterest).

Here is how you can help your son improve his nonverbal “sending” abilities:

1. Ask your son to “make faces at you” (e.g., have him express happiness, anger, sadness, disgust, fear, and surprise by using facial expressions - but not body movements).

2. Ask your son to tell you a story without words, either by “humming” the story as described above or by acting out the story.

3. Try having your son repeat a phrase (e.g., “I didn’t say you could go outside”) so that the phrase has different meanings (e.g., place the emphasis on “I” so that the phrase means that someone else said it -- or place the emphasis on “you” so that the phrase means someone else was allowed to go outside).

Remember to praise your son when he correctly identifies or conveys emotions, and coach him when mistakes are made.

These are just a few of the ways you can play with Aspergers children while also improving their nonverbal communication abilities. Let your imagination run wild! You’ll think of many others, and you and your son will have fun while developing an important life-skill.

The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook

2 comments:

Philip Andermann said...

The following is part of my subjective experience as an Aspergian child. I was only recently diagnosed and do not yet know how typical this is for an Aspergian child.

I hope the below is helpful to someone in some way. Please feel free to ask questions and to comment and I will respond. I realize this is incomplete. I hope to soon add more and to clarify. Thank you so much.


As a young Aspergian child in Australia, I long did not understand the usual social cues at all. [I also had very little contact with other children when very young.] It was like I looked at a person and I just saw his/her x-ray. I didn't know how, I just often felt powerful raw emotions emanating from that person, sometimes almost knocking me over striking like lightning or freezing me. Whether that reading of emotions was correct or not is another question. . And the overall vibration from an environment had a tremendous effect on my behavior. As a young child of 4 or 5, one place where I felt wonderful vibrations during the short I was there was a kindergarten focusing on painting and drawing. The woman in charge, Myra Morgan, who came from Vancouver was magic. I was utterly thrilled that my questions were always answered. I would draw a grandmother or grandfather and had to run and ask for the spelling. I picked up about numbers and how to write them. At first I wandered if a number could even exist if no one had ever counted to it, though I got bored of creating numbers for myself shortly after counting to a thousand. I asked and learned about placeholders, larger and larger, a million, a billion. What on earth would the largest number look like? I realized it could never exist, and struggled to understand how the word "infinity" could not ever come to exist, and how could we have a name for something that did not exist? I picked up how to read and spell a whole lot.

When I started first grade in public school, the chaos almost all seemed so violent and I was utterly frozen. I had to write with my right hand and had no idea how to write or read anything. I couldn't speak. I barely understood a word that anyone said. The teachers called me retarded. Besides the children who bullied me, I only remember there was one very gentle girl, Helen Brown, who I loved inside and seemed my one sunshine.

In second grade in a different school where I was judged retarded I was seemingly nonstop knocked on the ground, until I began to physically fight back nonstop until I was never let out for lunch.

I understood nothing about social cues. I was just knocked down by what I sensed as people's raw emotions.

When I started reading books, a vast new world opened for me vividly. The feelings in the imagination it awoke in me also evoked extreme emotions of wonder or also terrors which left me sleepless and then at times obsessively think of suicide. I absolutely had to avoid certain books.

I loved reading Homer .When I read a science fiction story at 7 which made me explode in excitement, I started to write science fiction and to study astronomy and physics... And then in realistic novels I finally learned how other people actually truly felt. I understood and deeply felt the characters' emotions which were largely new to me.

However in my world of passionate emotions, I still did not learn much about social cues. And rather than learning from what people talked to me about, I learned mostly about everything including life from books. I learned some things about social interaction from books. But unless I felt very positive things about another person, I would withdraw in spasms of terror that came to cripple me in social life,and I could not apply that knowledge to my life...

I hope the above is helpful to someone in some way. Please feel free to ask questions and to comment and I will respond. I realize this is incomplete. I hope to soon add more and to clarify. Thank you so much.

Philip Andermann said...

I am now over 50, and was not diagnosed as with Asperger syndrome until a few years ago. I grew up in a time in which there was NO distinction between what we now call "developmental disability" and "autism-spectrum" disorders. For children who were different, there was only the one word: "retarded."
I hope the above description of my emotional and intellectual inner world, from birth through second grade, will help even one mother, or father, caregiver or teacher understand their AS child better. Remembering these years was emotionally frightening for me, and only the intent of helping parents or teachers better understand their AS children allowed me to conquer that fear.
I will do my best to continue to participate in this blog with that intent. Thank you.

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