There are a number of conditions that cause people to have a hard time understanding nonverbal communication. These include, but are not limited to Asperger's Syndrome and High Functioning Autism. Beyond having difficulty communicating, it can lead to confusing social signals because some of this communication is signaling social status.
What if you didn't understand ninety percent of the conversation? What if your loved ones didn't know you were communicating ninety percent of the time?
It turns out that if a person with a Nonverbal Learning Disability (or NLD) can be greatly helped to learn to better communicate if those around them are aware of their disability
I wrote a book for my son who we suspect, like me, has mild High Functioning Autism. He has found it useful and his teacher read the book to his class last year. We have found it very helpful as a tool to explain both to our son and others what nonverbal communication is.
While this is intended as a children's book, there is a lot of meaning in the pages. I'll write some example questions to ask a child about some of the situations that will bring out some of the ideas.
This book is available on Lulu.com
Step 1: Bored!
The subject of the story, Bubs has feelings like any child this may not always be apparent, especially in teen years because NLD people may tend to have a "Poker Face" most of the time. Remember the lack of communication can go both ways, both in comprehending and expressing. While being bored isn't an emotion, it's subtle feelings that are most often not well expressed by people with NLD. If you're not sure what they're feeling, ask. Also don't be offended by a person with NLD who asks you how you're feeling.
Step 2: Can I Go Out?
Step 3: So Many to Play With!
Step 4: Feathers?
What are these Little Guys doing?
Here we see a social circle. Each of the members are individuals and react in different ways. There is, in every social situation an hierarchy or pecking order even if it is a casual one. The nonverbal aspect of communication and it's ritual is exaggerated here by the lil' guys not breaking the ritual even for something unexpected (like a giant tree ship almost landing on top of them).
I purposely made the lil' guys small so that they would be less threatening in a group. I didn't want this to look like Bubs was going to get beat up, even if that is a possibility in real life.
Step 5: Hello!
What did Bubs do wrong? (He interrupted)
Do you think it's wrong to laugh at someone that makes a mistake?
There are two very different sides to this exchange. To Bubs, the lil' guys are simply standing around doing nothing. He recognizes that they are doing something by showing each other their feathers but it doesn't have any meaning to him so he instinctively disregards it.
To the lil' guys Bubs has just stomped all over a highly structured ritual. They may not even realize how structured their behavior is. They just know that Bubs is in this situation socially awkward. Some are offended thinking that he has purposely disrespected their social order.
Step 6: The Raceboard
Step 7: It's Fixed!
What are the Little Guys in the back thinking?
What mistake did Bubs make again?
There is a huge amount of emotional signaling in people's eye contact. Here the lil' guys have only white circles for eyes so it doesn't look like they could convey a lot of information with their eyes but here they're intently making eye contact. In fact it would seem that there may be a bit of tension between the fellows in the foreground. Bubs quickly becomes the focus of that tension because he doesn't perceive it.
Step 8: The Race
Step 9: The Slip
Step 10: Challenge
Here the lil' guy is trying to hammer it home to Bubs that he's missing the point of the nonverbal signals. The thought going through his head is "How can this guy be so dumb?". He is being a bit of a bully. People with NLDs can be confusing because they can be very intelligent but cannot process social signals which most people handle easily. This is a seeming paradox to most people.
Step 11: Response
Bubs is trying to mimic the lil' guys body language but comes off as awkward.
Step 12: Embarrassment
Do you think that's mean to laugh at someone?
The paradox of intelligence and NLD is a source of humor to the lil' guys. This makes a lot of sense under the Benign Violation Theory of humor but still is socially painful to Bubs.
Step 13: A Friend?
Studies have found that having a social guide can go a long way to helping people with NLDs to learn to better interact socially. Many times this is a person who can bridge the gap of normal social interactions and the awkward interactions that Bubs has been displaying. Maybe this lil' guy has a lot of empathy or maybe (s)he can understand Bub's point of view because of some special insight.
Step 14: Having Fun
Step 15: Healing
Step 16: Happy Ending
Step 17: To Parents
Some people are not equipped with social "feathers". They have a hard time understanding the give and take of "small talk". They try their best but usually come off awkward and often misunderstood. Bubs tries his best to interact with the lil' guys but he just doesn't understand the complex social interactions that he is interrupting.
People with NLD, Aspergers and Autism can be very talented individuals, just like our little Bubs is. To the reader it would seem apparent that he has far more ability than the lil' guys (they have no hands but Bubs has hands and tools) but that doesn't matter to most of them, they may not even understand why Bubs has so many limbs. The same is true for those that are gifted, many people find it difficult to relate to them. They may even find them intimidating to talk to since many with NLD are hyperverbal.
It is likely that our Bubs will learn more about how the lil' guys interact and may be able to fit in one day but it will be difficult since he is very different. It will take hard work on his part and often a bit of creativity. The same is true of those that find social interaction difficult, fitting in isn't impossible, but it won't ever be easy.
Finding a friend can be a struggle at times but there are those gems of people that can reach past the differences and what seem to be odd quirks to those on the outside and make very good friends. Those that do are often rewarded with honest and loyal companions.