This is the fourth part of my 6 part series 5 Highly Effective Strategies for Managing Behavior. I encourage you to read the first three posts in the series, including:
Part 1: Why is He Acting That Way?
Part 2: Create Routines
Part 3: Structure for Success
These previous posts in the series provide the background information to understanding the communication intent behind behaviors, the importance of routines, and tips and ideas for structuring the environment for success.
As we've talked about communication being the foundation of relationships, we cannot ignore the importance of nonverbal communication. In this fourth post, I want to talk about the different types of nonverbal communication and how language impaired students are often unable to interpret and use nonverbal communication effectively. Our strategy for managing difficult behavior addressed throughout this post will focus on tuning into nonverbal communication.
What is Nonverbal Communication?
Nonverbal communication includes not only facial expressions, but gestures, eye gaze, body posture, tone of voice, body orientation, and movement between speakers and objects. It is important to recognize that nonverbal communication is not universal and does not transfer meaning between culture and religion. Let's look at a few general examples of communication without words.
There are different types of eye gaze, and I bet you've seen it all. Both children and adults use eye gaze to gain attention, direct or redirect attention, maintain attention, cease interaction, and show confidence.
On the other hand, a lack of eye gaze or eye contact, can be associated with fear, anxiety, feelings of distress or failure, fatigue, distraction, disinterest, boredom, sadness, or irritability (frustration). Be aware these are general statements and a lack of eye contact has different meaning across cultures. In some cultures, looking away shows respect rather than avoidance. When adults and children are actively engaged in positive nonverbal communication, their body orientation will match their eye gaze. Likewise, when communicators lack eye gaze or eye contact due to anxiety or fear, they often pull away physically and distance themselves from engaging with others.
How Do I Read Nonverbal Communication?Try not to read too much into one singular nonverbal cue. Instead look for patterns in nonverbal communication. Does the eye gaze match body orientation? Does tone of voice match facial expressions? These are important individual features that function as a whole. If you've ever been uncomfortable in a situation, you may have tried to hide how you feel with your tone of voice and word choices, but your body language "gave it away." While some nonverbal communication is overt and easy to interpret, there are subtleties that can go unnoticed, and even misinterpreted. Some gestures such as folded arms or scratching your nose, can have may different communicative functions. Be sure to compare current behaviors to past nonverbal behaviors. We all have habits and quirky behaviors that are all our own.
How Can I Help My Students Read, Understand, and Use Nonverbal Communication Effectively?
One of the best ways to help students attend to nonverbal communication, interpret meaning appropriately, and use their own nonverbal communication effectively is to watch and do. Here are a few ideas you can incorporate in your therapy sessions.
- Use wordless books in your therapy sessions-Wordless books require students to infer meaning from visual clues, identify and interpret gestures and body language and follow a story sequence without text. This is a naturally engaging activity to target nonverbal communication.
- Use wordless short films in your therapy sessions-Wordless films can be found easily on You Tube. I've included a few of my favorite short films that can be added to your sessions. Allow students to watch the film all the way through once without stopping it. Let your students get the gist of the story. Then go back and show the film again, but stop it in different parts to discuss and analyze nonverbal communication.
The Power of Teamwork
- Use photographs in your therapy sessions-Photographs can be used to help students identify emotions, make predictions, infer cause and effect, problem solve, make personal connections, and much more. Photographs can be used as verbal conversation starters, as well as prompts for written language tasks. Below is a sample of different photographs that can be used to spark brainstorming and conversation.
I hope you have a better understanding of the different types of nonverbal communication discussed in this post, as well as their functions. In addition, I've provided a few ideas you can incorporate into your therapy sessions as you help your students and clients understand and use nonverbal communication effectively.
Do you teach nonverbal communication directly or indirectly in your therapy sessions? What activities have you used in your therapy sessions to target nonverbal communication?
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