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The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues

Autism


People talk to each other with their eyes, don't they? What are they saying? --Asperger's syndrome subject (quoted in Carter 1998:141)


Communications disorder1. 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 contactfacial expressions, and gestures, and may be unable to use normal speech3. 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).

Asperger's Syndrome. Like autism, AS includes problems in social behavior, along with abnormal responses to the environment. Unlike autism, however, cognitive and communicative skills may be relatively normal, and verbal skills are strong. AS individuals show an unusually restricted interest in specific artifacts, objects, or life forms, such as bus schedules, videotape cassettes, and frogs.

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). 

Genetics. Regions of four chromosomes--2, 7, 16, and 17 (7 is known to be implicated in many language disorders)--may be linked to autism, according to recent findings of a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study (Anonymous (2001K).

Physical appearance1. Autistic children produce few facial expressions, though they may exhibit jaw-droop2. 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).

Psychiatry. "a) marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction" (diagnostic criteria for 299.00 AUTISTIC DISORDER, DSM IV).



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)



Neuro-note. In an autistic person, the brain stem is shorter, the facial nerve nucleus is smaller, and the superior olive (an auditory relay station) may be missing entirely (Rodier 2000:58). The amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum are smaller, as well (LaFee 2002).


Enter the world of autism . . .

Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron H. Huffman)