La Jolla, California: We are proud to announce the creation of the Nonverbal Curriculum Project (NCP). The NCP will be designed to help Aspergers ("Aspies") and Neurotypical ("NT") folk encode and decode each other's nonverbal signs, signals, and cues. This is a continuing project, so please check back often, and help if you can . . .
School of Professional Studies
Spokane, Washington USA
The Nonverbal Curriculum Project is designed to explore the overlapping Nonverbal Worlds of Aspergers (Aspie) and Neurotypical (NT) human beings. NTs often have difficulty understanding the nonverbal signs, signals, and cues of Aspie folk, and vice versa.
Click on an underlined topic (e.g., Eyes, Touch cues) for definitions from The Nonverbal Dictionary. Click on additional hyperlinks to watch short videos of Aspies and NTs explaining the topics in their own words and gestures.
Arguably the most expressive body parts for human nonverbal communication are the eyes, lips, shoulders, and hands, a group I call the "Top Four":
To shrug is to lift, raise, or flex-forward one or both shoulders in response a. to another person's statement, question, or physical presence; or b. to one's own inner thoughts, feelings, and moods. In a conversation, the shrug gesture may connote uncertainty or submissiveness. On the production (outgoing or efferent) side, I see little difference in Aspie and NT shrugging cues. On the reception (incoming or afferent) side, there may be some differences in their interpretation . . .
Aspies may wonder why NTs use so many speaking gestures and "talk with their hands." NTs wonder why Aspies may use fewer hand gestures while talking.
Spoken words and hand gestures are neurologically linked in a shared compartment of the hindbrain and upper spinal cord (see "Neuro-notes IV" in the entry for Hands).
The linkage explains why we move our hands while pronouncing words. Hands may also reach out socially to "connect" a speaker to listeners. To enhance rapport with NT listeners, an Aspie may reach out with a palm-up gesture. And yet, with an Aspie, since many hand signals fall on "deaf ears," so to speak, NT speakers should rely more on words themselves than on hand cues to get their meanings across.
Among the most expressive human body movements, postures, and gestures are the following "Elite Eight":
Head-nod gesture: 1. A vertical, up-and-down movement of the head used to show agreement or comprehension while listening. 2. A flexed-forward, lowering motion of the skull, used to emphasize an idea, assertion, or key speaking point.
Rotating the head horizontally from side-to-side to disagree, or to show misunderstanding of a speaker's words. In an emotional conversation, a rhythmic, side-to-side rotation of the head to express conviction, disbelief, sympathy, and/or grief. The head-shake is used to demonstrate cognitive dissonance or emotional empathy.
Palm-up cues are among the most common speaking gestures of Aspie and NT alike.
While some Autistics may use few hand gestures with words, folks on the Aspergers end of the spectrum often use many--especially palm-up--cues. Palm-up signs ultimately derive from the shoulder-shrug display.
It is common for mammals, including Aspies and NTs, to self-touch in contexts of emotional arousal. Often called "self stimulation," self-touch helps animals adapt to sensory-emotional arousal and overload through competing sensory behaviors that help counteract upsetting or overly arousing afferent (incoming) cues. Hand-flapping, jumping up and down, self- and other-touching, and triumph displays are common on TV game shows.
Aspies may not understand why NTs smile so much in greetings and conversations. The former folk may not automatically return a smile with a smile. Meanwhile, NTs may wrongly interpret the Aspie's blank face as "unfriendly."
Voice quality: 1. The manner in which a verbal statement is presented, e.g., its melody, rhythm, breathiness, hoarseness, or loudness. 2. Those qualities of speaking and vocalizing not usually included in the study of languages and linguistics. 3. Tone of voice reflects psychological arousal, emotion, and mood. It may also carry social information, as in a sarcastic, superior, or submissive manner of speaking.
Linguists call the quasi-musical qualities of human speech “prosody.” NTs appear to use more prosody than Autistics, whose speech may sound "flatter" in tone.
I call the following key meaning categories the "Suite Sixteen":
Isopraxism (Greek iso = "same," praxis = "behavior") explains why NTs dress alike and adopt beliefs, customs, and mannerisms of the people they admire. Wearing the same team jersey or franchise cap to look alike suggests like thinking and feeling, as well. Aspies, on the contrary, may show anisopraxic (Greek an = "not") tendencies, and not grasp the meaning of "group think" and team sports.
Aspies may be hypersensitive to certain sounds and noises--such as sirens, the tearing of paper, or fingers drumming on a desktop--that NTs find undisturbing. Auditory overload is more common in the former folk than in the latter.
In Autistics, repetition of others' words and phrases may be seen as "abnormal" and "involuntary." In NT infants, repetition of others' sounds may be considered "normal," and seen as a "necessary" step in language acquisition. Both examples of echolalia are forms of isopraxism.
Object fancy is the human urge to pick up, hold, handle, touch, own, arrange, collect, display, or talk about a manufactured human artifact. In Aspies, fancy for one or a few objects may become obsessive.
Many of our behavioral routines and repeated actions each day may be seen as reptilian-inspired rituals that are controlled by the brain's habit-prone basal ganglia (a motor control area identified as the protoreptilian brain or "R-complex" by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean). According to MacLean, these neural components set the patterns of our daily master routine.
Daily master routines may be stronger in Aspies than in NTs. The former may feel greater frustration with upsets in daily routine.
Rhythmic repetition, such as walking, is an ancient type of movement. It dates back 500 million years ago to vertebrate spinal-cord, brain-stem, and cortical-motor areas. "Once initiated," according to Claude Ghez, "the sequence of relatively stereotyped movements may continue almost automatically in reflex-like fashion." Walking stimulates nerve receptors in muscles, tendons, and bones (see above, "Self touch").
As an NT, Joy Jones, put it, "I am in the moment, living the experience, when I am walking." For Autistics, walking is a form of self-stimulation that enables escape from this (NT) world into their own inner world of autism.
Along with balance, hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch, human beings have a highly developed sense of time. So time oriented has our species become that we define distance in chronometric terms. By international agreement, ". . . the meter is defined as the distance light travels in 1/299,792,458 of a second" (Itano and Ramsey 1993:64).
Some incoming sensory cues--such as bright lights, sirens, and staring eyes--can lead to sensory overload in Aspergers folk. Stringy foods such as celery--and certain tactile cues, such as fleece--may be avoided as displeasing to the senses.
Aspies may not understand why NTs need to reach out and touch during a conversation. NTs may not fathom why Aspies often seem reluctant to touch.
NTs frequently engage each other in "small talk"--"What a beautiful day," "What's happening?" and "How are you?" Small talk has been likened to chimpanzee "grooming talk," as the apes sociably clean and pick through one another's fur with their fingertips and hands. Aspies may not get the point of small talk, nor enjoy its tactile qualities akin to hands-on grooming and vocal "touch."
(More to come . . .)
Thanks for reading! This is an ongoing project and I'll be adding and revising in the weeks and months to come . . . Please stay tuned and help me if you can!