Communications disorder. 1. A related family of conditions, from producing repetitive body movements to showing a special gift for drawing, music, or math, marked by a lack of empathy and an extreme inability to send and receive normal nonverbal cues. 2. An autistic person may fail to use socially normal patterns of eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures, and may be unable to use normal speech. 3. An autistic individual may also display an intense interest in arranging, organizing, or hoarding a restricted range of physical objects.
Usage: When kept from handling a favored object, an autistic person may yell, become aggressive, or engage in property destruction. ". . . more than anything, autism is a defect of communication--an inability to share feelings, beliefs and knowledge with other people" (Carter 1998:141).
Behavior. "Their language skills are often limited, and they find it difficult to initiate or sustain conversations. They also frequently exhibit an intense preoccupation with a single subject, activity or gesture" (Rodier 2000:56).
Embryology. In the first 20 to 24 days of gestation, a defect in the gene HOXA1 may be responsible a. for the physical appearance of the mouth, lower jaw, and ears, and b. for the brain stem anomalies (see below, Neuro-note) of autism (Rodier 2000:59).
Facial recognition. According to UCSD neuroscientist Eric Courchesne and colleagues, deep-brain scans show that the fusiform gyrus, which mediates facial recognition in non-autistic children, fails to activate when autistic children view pictures of faces (LaFee 2002).
Physical appearance. 1. Autistic children produce few facial expressions, though they may exhibit jaw-droop. 2. People with autism ". . . have often been described not only as normal in appearance but as unusually attractive [perhaps due to a diminutive lower jaw and chin; see Facial Beauty]. They are certainly normal in stature, with normal-to-large heads" (Rodier 2000:60). 3. "The corners of his mouth are low compared with the center of his upper lip, and the top of his ears flop over [and are 'lower than normal' with 'an almost square shape'] . . ." (Rodier 2000:59).
E-Commentary I: "Some muscles in my face are permanently atrophied because I never used them for nonverbal communication in the 28 first years of my life; this is the only 'nonverbal scar' that is left [after diet/vitamin treatment]." --An anonymous ex-Asperger's syndrome (7/20/01 4:27:34 PM Pacific Daylight Time)
E-Commentary II: "One thing most sorely missing from your Nonverbal Dictionary is the concept of exaggeration. If I exaggerate an expression, it often becomes 'fake' or 'you're laughing at my nonverbal' to normal people! This is why autism-related teaching tools fail; the autist or Asperger is taught to smile too much, which is counter-productive in any environment that is not used to autistic people. Even Aspergers with an IQ of 170, a wife, two kids, and a job leading a team of engineers can get caught regularly in this type of error!!! There is a great need to know what force should be given to the expression, and what timing is useful. I remember making those smiles that were perfect when I was younger, but I would stop smiling suddenly so the people around me would think that it was a fake smile all along. Just looking happy when I am happy is something that has taken me 1000 hours to master. I do not have the "instinct package," so as a complete outsider to instinctual mammalian behavior, I notice key factors of nonverbal that are so obvious to you . . . you won't even notice! --Asperger syndrome, moebius syndrome, tone deaf, and totally flat tone of voice (8/1/01 7:13:39 PM Pacific Daylight Time)
Enter the world of autism . . .
Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron H. Huffman)