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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Interpreting Non-Verbal Signals

Please click:
What Everybody Ought to Know About Aspergers and Marriage by Stephen Borgman

Stephen Borgman: "I'm a Licensed Psychotherapist. I'm dedicated to excellence, and  focused on bringing hope, understanding, and solutions through excellence in counseling. I love my work! My areas of focus include disability, work related stress, men's issues, children and family coaching. I help individual and corporate clients manage problem situations and develop unused resources and opportunities effectively, resulting in effective solutions." 

I found this article interesting to read, and I know Stephen Borgman has plenty of experience. However, within his article, I uncovered the 6th Aspie myth: "Interpreting non-verbal signals, the core of all communication, for example, is something that the AS individual will always have a lot of difficulty doing."

The part of this statement that identifies it as a myth is the complete hopelessness of the Aspie's case. On the contrary, I believe there is plenty of help and hope available to Aspies, even grown Aspies who were only recently diagnosed. 

Please don't make this blanket statement, Mr. Borgman. I don't know what your experience is, as you evaluate the social skills of the Aspies who come to you for help. It may very well be that those you counsel struggle desperately in the area of non-verbal communication. However, in my experience, Aspies are quick to pick up on non-verbal signals, especially the communication of those whom they know well. These Aspies just don't always guess the best way to handle their end of the conversation. But you who are not on the autistic spectrum would  be surprised at our awareness of body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, if you could look inside our minds.

To the Aspies who come to my blog for help, I would like to encourage my readers that the terms "always" and "a lot" will not be true of you forever, if you work at interpreting non-verbal signals, and especially if you are working with a mentor or a teacher who understands. 

I am a third culture kid, which means I grew up living in more than one country. Non-verbal signals vary across cultures, and they can be taught to Aspies as elements of the particular culture in which they move. This is a skill which must be learned, but don't feel as if it's too late. It's never too late to pay attention and try hard to develop non-verbal interpretation correctly.

Back to my elementary school days for evidence that this statement is a myth. Please remember that I did not receive an Asperger's syndrome diagnosis until I was 18, and I had only the therapy of growing up in a Christian home and attending a Christian school.

On the school bus, when I attended 5th grade in Pennsylvania, I shared a bus seat with a 6th grade girl, while another friend who sat in the seat in front of us was in 7th grade. We liked to imagine stories about mermaids on our long ride to school and home again. Those were the days when the Disney movie A Little Mermaid came out.

One day, my 6th grade friend suggested that we each design a mermaid castle and enter them in a contest. Then the three of us and our 1st grade friend would vote for our favorite.

I voted for the 6th grader's castle. The 7th grader voted for my castle. The 1st grader (who had not drawn a picture) voted for the 6th grader's castle. Then it was the 6th grader's turn to vote.

I could see the suspense and potential hurt in the face of my 7th grade friend. I could sense her shallow breathing, and saw how she was leaning forward to hear the results of the contest. 

I whispered in my 6th grade friend's ear, "Vote for hers. She'll be mad if you don't."

But my friend decided to give her honest opinion and vote for my castle.

"Nobody likes my castle!" our 7th grade friend blustered. "I worked hard on it, and I just don't have the talent to draw like you do. It was the best I could do, and nobody voted for it. This just ruins my day."

As we stepped of the bus onto the school playground, my 6th grade friend said quietly to me, "You were right."

So what do you think, readers? Was I able to interpret non-verbal communication?



  1. Hi, Sharon. Thank you for honoring me enough to give me honest feedback. I'm humbled by writing about Asperger syndrome, because I'm not Aspergian. I guess the only way I can become more accurate is by learning from people like you. Thanks for sharing how you are able to pick up on non-verbal signals. That encourages me.

    I'm also a third culture missionary kid, so we have that in common! I look forward to continuing to learn from you, and I'm subscribing to your blog.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Stephen, and thank you especially for your humility. I tried not to flat-out contradict you, since I am just one person with Asperger's syndrome, and I have not actually gone to school to study Asperger's. Most of my "expertise" comes from carefully observing my immediate family and close friends.

    2. You could say I have life-credentials for writing on this topic.