Communication can seem like a fairly ambiguous process- and it is precisely this type of ambiguity that makes it hard for individuals with Aspergers to communicate effectively. I recently started reading a groundbreaking work by Michelle Garcia Winner, called Thinking About You, Thinking About Me. She came up with an effective framework that is helpful for both teachers/parents/therapists and for individuals with Aspergers.
(I originally wrote this article for E-Zine Articles. You can see all my articles at my E-Zine Author Page.)
Here are teaching/learning points for individuals with Aspergers:
Defining the Four Steps of Communication
Step 1. Think about the person with whom you desire or need to communicate.
The first step to remember is to anchor your thoughts on your communicative partner or partners. Here are some questions to keep in mind:
- What do you know or remember about them?
- What do they think and how do they feel?
- What might they want to talk about?
- How will they feel about what you want to say?
Step 2. Establish a physical presence to indicate communicative intent.
The key point to keep in mind is that your physical presence ‘greases the wheel’ of communication. How you present yourself physically will plant the seed in others’ minds that you want to communicate with them.
- How you stand and hold your body will show whether you want to talk to them or not.
- Your body movements show what you plan to do next (do you want to stay or do you want to leave?) Remember that your body posture and movements communicate messages to people, even if you don’t mean to.
- Your shoulder and hip positions show whether you plan to stay and talk, or whether you just want to offer a quick message and leave.
- Your body language and facial expression “talks” to people around you, showing them how you feel about things and how you feel about them.
- If your head, neck, shoulders, arms and hips are generally relaxed, you are showing the other person that you are at ease and comfortable with your communicative partners. At times you need to physically relax your body to comfort your communicative partners.
- It is critical to remember that effective communication is based on reading and understanding the body language and facial expressions of the people around us.
Step 3. Shift into directed eye contact to seal you intention to communicate with a person or group of people.
In addition, overall, use your eyes to think about others and watch what they are thinking about.
Physical eye contact is one of the mechanics of showing interest in people, but ‘thinking with the eyes’ is the broader concept that helps the individual with Aspergers understand the ‘why’ behind physical eye contact.
Ms. Winner shares that generally, eye contact is the laser beam that actively shows the person we want to communicate with them as we get closer to them physically. It is helpful to discuss this, role play examples, and watch clips from films to help the individual with Aspergers understand how to effectively utilize eye contact to communicate with others.
Step 4. Use language to communicate with those people, while maintaining and expanding upon the first three steps.
One of the challenges that children and older individuals with Aspergers face is that they are very good at learning language, but don’t always understand how to use language to build and maintain relationships and friendships. Language needs to be used to relate to the other person’s feelings, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and prior experiences.
Children and individuals with Aspergers are very talented at talking at length about areas that interest them. Unfortunately, they often talk at people, rather than talking to them. And as a result, the other person/persons feel annoyed, thinking that the individual with Aspergers is self centered and uninterested in them.
Here are ideas to explore on this point:
- Think about what you know about the person to whom you are talking.
- Try connecting your ideas to things that are interesting to others.
- Ask questions to learn more about people; make comments to show interest.
- Listen with your eyes and ears to determine people’s intentions and hidden meanings.
- Add your own thoughts to connect your experiences to those of others.
- Make comments that support a person’s idea, or add comments that support discussion of the idea without bluntly condemning other people’s thoughts.
- Use small units of language (or body language) to support people’s ideas, or at least show you are actively listening.
These four steps can be taught separately; but remember that at different times, you may want to review a different step depending on the individual’s real life experiences.
I hope you find this framework as helpful to you as it was to me. This model of communication is equally helpful, I feel, to NT’s (neurotypical persons) as it is to Aspies (individuals with Aspergers). Learn from it, teach it, and apply it.
What do you think of these four steps?
Are they helpful to you in understanding the communication process?
Please comment below!