I AM speaking to you

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To continue with a previous blog post ‘Body Language Essentials‘, I thought I would underscore a little of what I would really love people to become conscious of when working with, developing friendships with, raising a child with more pronounced forms of communication through body language than with verbal language, in effort to aide the public to equip their thought processes from a perspective unique to those who heavily focus on verbal language as ‘the’ form of communications, rather than focussing on body language communications. 

In researching what images are on the internet, I had great difficulty finding effective images because for the most part these images have been created by those who are verbal from what I can garner. However, below are a series of images to get started and using the above introductory image as an opportunity for you the reader to process a new perspective on this subject.

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My background is in dance and a large part of my early training and then professional training was in mime gestures as a form of communication in choreographic forms. As a child the early studies and exam work was in miming actions such as shh gestures, opening a present gestures, emotional expressive gestures (happy, sad, glee, angry, alone, lonely, excitement, greetings, saying good byes) and so on… These early training forms are then included into the story telling of ballet – not unlike pantomimes which rely heavily on exaggerated forms of gestural communications.

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Rhythm and movement also play a large part in the timing of performance art gestures (body langauge communications) the sound of the rhythms and melodies may accentuate the gestures for more pronounced meanings in the story telling. Silence provides another accent, large booms or bangs another accent and certain instruments or vocalized sounds provide yet another, underscoring the communications of the body language movement or gestures.

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National and historical dance offered another aspect of communications through body language relating culture, geography, climate, history, religion and agriculture. Pattern and tracking of these dances depict the land and its culture determining whether the dance is in a form of lines, circles, squares – physical movements up and down on skimming the ground in a floating like manner as some examples. Each impressing a definitive relationship in how and what it is being communicated. The sounds or musical forms would give suggestion to the beat of the body, legs, feet, hand and arm, head and even eye movements and whether there would be physical contact between dancers or not.

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If we spend time considering some of these simple elements as discussed above and in context of the Blog Post ‘Body Language Essentials‘ perhaps as a society we can develop a side of ourselves which perhaps has not been empathetic to those in the autistic community and other sub human groups whereby body language communications is enhanced rather than judging such people for being Non-Verbal, thus respecting and learning directly from their naturally heightened sense of Body Language acumen. 

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I think that rather than suggest that individuals are Non-Verbal and making it a negative and something we need to fix, take the time to ask yourself ‘how’ you may learn from that individual, what may that individual teach you and in asking yourself that question, you may open a new and fresh approach and doorway, validating another form of communication taught by that individual to you. Until you try, you will never know.

In the mid 1990’s I had the opportunity to work my PlayWorks program with a woman who had just come out of one of the institutions for all kinds of individuals (many of whom were autistic forty years prior). This woman was my age (40yrs) when I met her. The group home she was assigned to only knew that autism was the label in her file and that she was put in the institution at a very early age around 4/5yrs. She had lived there until I met her. She was considered Non-Verbal and aggressive. She screamed a lot but I did not see or experience any aggression. She apparently screamed when being taken somewhere where she did not know where she was going and would scream when being taken back to her new residence – the group home. She carried a teddy bear with her everywhere (it was likely the only toy she had given to her when a little girl, as it looked worn and from an era different to the current time).

When I met her, I saw me. I saw a ‘me’ that could have become ‘her’. The first part of PlayWorks was to engage with pattern and tracking, using spatial relationship and to communicate with a ball as the tool. No words, no verbal langauge. Only Body Language. In the beginning she did not know what to do, she had never experienced what is a natural right for all children. But, due to the natural rhythms I engaged with, she soon caught on. A smile crept into her face, and joy was expressed naturally through her body bouncing up and down. By the second or third session she said ‘ball’ much to the surprise of her two workers who came with her. It was spontaneous and was not something I had made as part of an objective of the program for her. The second word she said was ‘throw’. She smiled, she laughed, she made lots and lots of sounds and ‘noise’ as the workers remarked. Her body however betrayed excitement, joy, happiness, despite the two words, the body language was louder than the words. I asked the group home and the workers to carry out this simple experience in the group home on a daily basis and to start to include other members in that home who had also come from the institution. Weeks later, I was saddened to find out that they could not create a simple play system and that each time they were bringing her to our studio, they said she was aggressive when coming (meaning when they would get her into the vehicle) and the same upon returning to the group home. I suggested that this is a very emotional experience for someone of her age (my age) who had never experienced ‘play’ a right to all humans, especially a developing child. It would be expected for her to express in all forms of physical mannerisms/body language. I will never forget that woman, her eyes looked straight into mine the first day I met her, when they told me she had no eye contact. She looked into my eyes each session, and I saw her, her pain, her soul, her joy – at least for a brief moment in time. 

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I will never forget that woman, and each birthday I continue to remind myself that she is me and I am she. She was silenced and I was supported to express in all manner of expression, body langauge and verbal language… the language of sound and music.

A few years later I would experience my own child’s sudden and abrupt life experience of an MVA which left him non-ambulatory and non-verbal.

Listen in to my weekly broadcast with radio show host Kelly Green on Living with autism: 60 year journey to find out more about why we do what do at the ANCA World Autism Festivaland the decades of life experience which led us on this path.

Copyright Leonora Gregory-Collura. All rights reserved, November 20, 2016

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