Understanding the Use of Nonverbal or Behavioral Communication

It is important to understand that virtually all human behavior communicates something to others. For a person who has difficulty vocalizing what it is that he or she wishes to communicate, the use of nonverbal or behavioral communication may take a more primary role in how that person communicates. The following is a list of several forms of this type of communication:

Direct physical manipulation of a person or object (e.g., taking a person's hand and pushing it towards a desired item; giving a cup to a caregiver to indicate, "Want milk").

Pointing, showing, gaze shift (e.g., the person looks or points to a desired object and then shifts his gaze to another person, thereby requesting that object).

Use of sounds, including crying, to communicate (e.g., an individual says "ah-ah-ah", to draw another person's attention to him).

Sign language:
Communication with a conventional sign language system.

Using objects:
The individual hands an object to another person to communicate (e.g., the person hands a cup to his parent to indicate "drink").

Using photos:
Use of two-dimensional photographs to communicate (e.g., the individual points to, or hands photographs of various objects, actions or events to communicate his desires).

Use of two-dimensional drawings which represent objects, actions or events (e.g., a child hands a line drawing of a "swing" to his parent to indicate that he wants to swing).

Use of printed words or phrases to communicate (e.g., the individual writes, "too loud" to indicate that the noise level in the environment is bothering him).

Stokes, S. (n.d.). Developing expressive communication skills for non-verbal children with autism. Retrieved January 2003, from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Website: http://www.cesa7.k12.wi.us/sped/autism/nonverbal/non11.htm

While it may not be possible for a health care practitioner to be able to fully understand and interpret all of the subtle behavioral nuances which the patient may be conveying, it is important to both understand that many behavioral expressions are attempts to communicate something, and to attempt to the best of one's ability to discover what that message is.

For more information about Nonverbal Communication see BBB Autism Online Support Network: http://www.bbbautism.com/pdf/article_50_the_messages_of_behavior.pdf Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.