Many of the children that struggle with social learning challenges have difficulty understanding nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication includes all the ways people convey a message to another person without spoken language.
Nonverbal communication comprises 70-80% of all communication- leaving less than 20% to what is said with words. It includes facial expressions, gestures, movements, postures, sounds, voice inflection and volume.
When a child has weak referencing skills, he often compensates by becoming highly reliant on spoken language. As a result, if no one is talking he isn’t paying attention. He is likely preoccupied by his own thoughts and does not notice the information that is being conveyed nonverbally.
In contrast, typically developing babies effortlessly become experts in nonverbal communication by their first birthday. They spend the first year of their lives bonding with their caregivers, getting their needs and wants met without talking. They have learned to observe and respond to what they see.
As a parent, you can help develop and strengthen your child’s understanding of nonverbal communication. If your child is overly dependent on verbal prompts, he can be very insistent that you use words. The harder it is for him to tolerate your use of other modalities of communication, the more likely it is that he would benefit from your help.
Teaching about nonverbal communication should be done in as natural (and fun) way as possible. When working on strengthening your child’s understanding of nonverbal communication, do activities where you talk as little as possible.
Rather that say “no”, vigorously shake your head. Rather than explain where the shoes are, point to them. Exaggerate your facial expressions and body language. Take a walk with your child; but instead of saying, “hey, look at beautiful flower,” pause, and vocalize, “oh” with a rising inflection to draw attention to how pretty it is. Playing charades is also a fun way to work on nonverbal communication. Give a ‘thumbs up” or high five when you’re pleased.
Generally, provide lots of opportunities for your child to need to observe what you are doing. By deliberately using nonverbal means to communicate with your child, he will begin to discover the impact of observing other people and their nonverbal communications. Daily, fun practice now will help strengthen your child’s ability to navigate social -communicative interactions at home, in school and in the future.