A substantial amount of our everyday communication is nonverbal. In fact, in order to communicate an idea or an emotion, words aren’t always necessary. Just think about all of the facial expressions, postures, and gestures you use throughout the day to communicate how you’re feeling or what you’re doing. Perhaps you wave to a neighbor from across the street, or you smile at a coworker in passing. These are methods of nonverbal communication that probably come as second nature to you!
What is a nonverbal person?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term used to identify neurodevelopmental disorders relating to communication, socialization, behavior, and development. Everyone on the autism spectrum experiences this condition differently. Some individuals with ASD are nonverbal, meaning they cannot use their words to communicate. Around 25-30% of people on the spectrum speak fewer than 30 words, or do not speak at all.
This nonverbal trait can be present for a variety of reasons, ranging from genetics to infancy development. Whatever the case may be, the absence of speech does not equate to a lack of understanding. Many people with nonverbal ASD are extremely intelligent, despite their minimal words. Plus, there are so many other modes of communication that don’t require sound!
In this blog, we will explore different types of effective nonverbal communication strategies and how you can better communicate with individuals on the autism spectrum.
How to Communicate with a Nonverbal Person
Perhaps subconsciously, we often convey our thoughts, feelings, and emotions without saying a single word. There are plenty of ways nonverbal individuals can communicate with the people around them, many of which we use on an everyday basis!
9 Types of Nonverbal Communication
- Facial Expressions: Our faces are extremely expressive. Consider how many emotions we can communicate universally. Across all cultures, happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, and surprise are all recognized the same. Think about the last time you saw someone smiling. You didn’t have to ask how they were feeling, they were already telling you!
- Body Language: Every move you make communicates something to the people around you. Whether it’s the way you walk, stand, or sit, the manner in which you carry yourself gives the world a perception of your thoughts or feelings. For example, sitting still and looking up during a meeting or class conveys attention and respect. On the other hand, fidgeting and looking at the floor may indicate the opposite.
- Gestures: Gestures are deliberate movements or signals that are used as powerful tools to convey meaning without words. Some common gestures include pointing, giving a thumb’s up, using your fingers to show a numerical value, and waving. You don’t actually have to say “hello” when you have a hand to wave and a smile on your face!
- Posture: Posture often indicates a person’s level of comfort in a particular situation. For example, someone who is tired or frustrated might slouch their shoulders, and someone who is angry or nervous may have their arms crossed.
- Physical Touch: So much information can be transferred through physical touch, whether it’s a hug, a handshake, or a nudge of the arm. Research shows that mother figures tend to use physical touch to convey nurturance and care, which makes children feel safe, loved, and protected. It is important to note that this kind of communication should only be practiced if both parties are comfortable, especially because many individuals on the spectrum experience sensory overload from physical stimuli.
- Personal Space: While physical touch is a form of communication, lack of touch is also on the list. The amount of personal space you give others in a given situation can communicate your comfort level or the boundaries you want to set.
- Paralinguistics: Paralinguistics is a powerful type of communication that is vocal, but doesn’t use actual language. Something as simple as the tone, volume, or inflection of your voice can have a significant impact on the meaning of your words. Your tone can indicate anger, sarcasm, excitement, and other emotions. It’s not about the words you say, it’s about how you say them.
- Eye Contact: Your eyes tell their own story. A range of emotions can be communicated through your eyes alone, including attraction, interest, and even hostility. Direct eye contact can be more personable and friendly, while shifty eyes can seem more deceptive.
- Appearance: Whether you have colored hair, a simple wardrobe, or a sleeve of tattoos, our appearance tells the world about ourselves before we get the chance to communicate any other way. A person’s first impression of our physical appearance can have a major impact on their overall perception of us.
Using Assistive Technology to Communicate
In addition to these 9 types of nonverbal communication that we use in our everyday lives, there are also new forms of technology that people with autism can use to communicate. For example, they can type their thoughts on a standard keyboard, or they can use special communication devices with personal scripts, images, and phrases. Users of these devices are able to tap on their desired icons, and the device speaks for them! To learn more about how assistive technology can help with nonverbal communication in the home, the classroom, or out and about, check out our blog, Why Assistive Technology is Important for Adults with Disabilities.
Covey: Find Comfort in Communication
Information can be conveyed in a multitude of ways, and it’s important to recognize how you’re presenting yourself to the world around you. Interpreting nonverbal cues and actions makes for a more inclusive society!
When we all make an effort to communicate with one another, we start breaking down barriers. At Covey, we value each of our client’s unique selves. We see the person first, not the disability. Whether in Oshkosh or Appleton, everyone who comes through our door is valued for their talents and the unique perspective they share with us and the world around them.
When a client is nonverbal, we work with them by using these 9 types of nonverbal communication strategies. We focus on what factors make that individual feel the most comfortable, and what tools we can use to help them grow. Because above all else, we are committed to helping our clients live life to its fullest potential!