Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gesture as Communication

Do you remember when your child said his/her first word?  Or, are you still waiting to hear it?  It is a moment every parent looks forward to -- the chance to communicate with your child.  But look closely, there are so many more ways that your baby can communicate with you.
 (side note: by "baby", I mean children of any age! - mine will forever be my babies no matter how old they are!)

So today, consider the gestures your child uses to communicate with you. Yes, gestures are an important part of communication, at all ages.

Gestures are actions produced with intent to communicate.  Gestures are expressed using fingers, hands, and arms, but can also include facial features. Early examples include open-handed reaching, reaching up to indicate want to be held, pushing objects away in protest, and arm flailing. The importance of gestural communication is often underestimated. 

Children learn gesture through observational and imitative learning.  There is an important social interaction component to this imitative learning that is required. Communication must be developed from social interaction.  In other words, digital entertainment or TV will not develop communication that can be interpreted and used in natural contexts. Many children with autism spectrum disorders will use scripts derived from TV programs, movies, commercials, etc.   While this is a form of language learning, it is not initially functional for 2-way communication.

Developmental Examples of Gestural Communication
  • protest by body signal (e.g., back arching), or push away objects
  • request by pointing, reaching, or making physical contact with an adult
  • request action by reaching to be picked up, or performing an action to indicate want for something to reoccur
  • seek attention by banging objects together, use body movements, or taking an adult's hand
  • demonstrate anticipation of social games (e.g., peek-a-boo, song/finger plays)
  • use of representational gestures such as waving goodbye and imitating clapping
  • demonstrate shared attention by showing and giving objects

  • request by looking at the object, then the adult, and then the object
  • request actions by giving an object to an adult for help
  • demonstrate the functions of objects such as brushing hair with a brush, putting on a hat, or stirring with a spoon
  • point to objects or events for shared attention

  • protest by shaking head for “no"
  • request by reaching while opening and closing hands to obtain an object
  • point to get someone to do something (e.g. open a door, carry to another room)
  • take the hand of an adult and guide a hand or body to do something (e.g. take adult hand and put it on stomach to get tickled).
  • demonstrate actions such as smacking lips to indicate wanting something to eat
  • share attention by pointing to objects upon request (e.g. “show me the ball” or “Where’s the doggie?”)
  • request information by pointing at pictures or objects with the expectation that an adult will name it

  • seek attention through “showing off” (e.g. sticking out tongue, making funny faces, making sounds to get a laugh, and performing fingerplays such as patty cake)
  • use representational gestures such as shrugging shoulders or putting hands up to indicate “all done” or “where did it go?”  
  • blow kisses, signal “shhh” with fingers to lips, nod with a “yes,” pretend to sleep, and use conventional gestures of excitement (e.g. high five).
  • share attention by clarifying verbal messages with gesture (e.g. point to an object he/she has attempted to verbally label)

Watch for the ways your child is communicating with you via gestures, or start to encourage gestures as an "in road" to further development of social communicative interactions.

As always, feel free to contact us at Autism Journeys with any questions or concerns!


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