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Learning the Language of Relationships

By: Ann Siegel (1998)

Relationships follow a chain of CHOICE - BEGINNING - DEEPENING - ENDING - CHOICE that is never ending. The closer to the beginning of the cycle that you have problems, the harder it is for you to develop the rest of the chain. You move through the relationship chain by the use of communication, both verbal and non- verbal. Non- verbal language appears to be a good secret code that is written nowhere, known by no- one, yet understood by everyone.

Components of non-verbal language

  • facial expression
  • paralinguistics or prosody
  • body movements
  • gestures

Similarities between verbal and non-verbal language

  • both are organized sign systems used for communication
  • both are learned
  • both are vulnerable to similar expressive and receptive deficits
  • both are conversational

Differences

Non-verbal language

  • is continuous and cannot easily be stopped
  • takes place without awareness
  • errors made are taken to mean person is emotionally troubled
  • learned informally and indirectly

Verbal language

  • is discrete and can be stopped at will
  • very aware when used
  • errors are taken to mean a person is uneducated
  • learned formally and directly

If you break a non- verbal rule of language, it has a negative emotional impact on the receiving person. Persons with non- verbal learning disabilities do not know when they have a social processing deficit and therefore cannot stop the inappropriate behavior.

Teaching non- verbal language is the foundation before you can teach appropriate social skills. The deficits need to be assessed through:

  • Informal models for receptive and expressive areas and formal methods such as the Diagnostic Analysis of NonVerbal Accuracy (DANVA).

Major areas of non- verbal language assessed are:

  • Rhythm: What is the person's rate of walking, talking, eating, etc.?
  • Personal Space: Can you recognize the unwritten space rules such as: up to 18" for personal space; 18"- 4 ft. for interactive space; 4-12 ft. for social space; and, 12 feet and beyond for public space?
  • Touch: What are the rules for touching another person and how may they be different from culture to culture?
  • Faces: Recognizing expressions on a face based on emotions of joy, anger, fear, sadness, etc.
  • Gestures and Postures: What do they mean?
  • Paralanguage or Prosody: What does the tone of voice tell you?

Teachers must be aware of the need to assess and remediate the non- verbal language before the child is 10 years old. After that, mistakes make other people uncomfortable. The mental health success of the affected students depends on this remediation.

Ann Siegel Newsbriefs May/June 1998 Learning Disabilities Association of America