Social Skills Topics –
How to Teach Non-Verbal Cues
If you have a teenager who is diagnosed with Autism/Asperger’s, you probably notice that he/she has difficulty with social skills and non-verbal cues especially. Non-verbal cues are important to give and important to understand when communicating with others. The majority of the way we communicate is via non-verbal cues so learning the non-verbal cues and the meaning behind them is important for social skills training. In this article, I will be focusing on 2 non-verbal cues: Eye Contact and Facial/Body Cues. Included are some quick exercises that you can do with your teen at home. These exercises are meant as a warm up and will help with bringing awareness to your teen in regards to non-verbal communication.
Eye contact is extremely important in socializing with others. You can gauge a person’s emotions by seeing where their eyes are focused. Eye contact is so important that even the common adage, “The eyes are the window to a person’s soul” is often quoted with regards to eye contact. If your teenager has difficulty with making eye contact with others, it is usually in the following forms: There is lack of eye contact (e.g., staring down, staring away, staring off into space); or there is too much eye contact (e.g., staring straight into someone’s eyes without blinking). Below are some exercises to practice making appropriate eye contact:
The Eyes Have it: When your teenager is talking to you about something, make sure they look at your face—they can look at your nose or your mouth but at least it’s in the vicinity of your face. Remind them with a verbal cue (e.g., “Eyes,” “Where are your eyes?” or some other similar phrase). Verbally praise your teenager each time they make appropriate eye contact with you.
Turn Away: Have your teenager count to 5 in their head (or out loud at first, if that’s easier for him/her) BEFORE they avert their eyes. Again, praise them for making eye contact with you and for averting their eyes at the appropriate time. You will repeat this throughout your conversations with your teenager.
These exercises are also really good to practice for more advanced social skills training. But the art of making appropriate eye contact needs to be established first as eye contact (or lack thereof or too much of it) is one of the first things that people notice about you. It is the building block of social skills.
The next non-verbal social cue to focus on is facial/body cues. These are important since non-verbal facial cues convey a lot of emotions (or lack thereof). Non-verbal facial cues convey to the speaker how you are feeling.
The way we stand, the way our arms our crossed, the facial expressions we make, all convey emotions. It is important to understand what these non-verbal cues convey to others. Below are some exercises to help your teen practice these cues.
Monkey Faces: Have your teen stand in front of a mirror next to you. Have your teen imitate your expressions. This exercise is to give awareness to your teen about how facial expressions look to others. Becoming aware of how your facial expressions and body language looks to others is key to social skills.
Take a Wild Guess: Now, once you have your teen’s attention, continue to make facial expressions BUT now, have your teen guess what emotion is behind the facial expression. Start off with the easy ones first (e.g., smile, frown, furrowed brow) then move to the more difficult ones (e.g., rolling eyes, head cocked to the side). Do the same with body language (e.g., arms crossed, legs crossed, leaning forward, leaning backward). Remember, it’s important for your teen to remember that each facial expression, each body language movement conveys an emotion.
Practicing the above exercises will allow your teen to start being aware of all the ways people communicate non-verbally.
Article by Marianne Bernaldo