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Nonverbal Communication

  • Nonverbal: not using spoken language
  • Stimming: repetition of physical movements, sounds, or words, or movement of objects

Nonverbal communication is extremely important to anyone with autism, anxiety, or a panic disorder. It can range from texting and writing, to sign language or actual handheld signs. For some nonverbal people, it’s a constant need, and for some, it’s only during anxiety, anger or depression. Though for all, it’s a must.

From personal experience, I know going nonverbal and being forced to verbalize my emotions and what I’m thinking is one of the most anxiety inducing things in the world. With accommodations, I’m able to avoid that anxiety and often calm myself through stimming and calming exercises.

For example, if my fiance and I text, even if we are on call, that’s how he accommodates me. The accommodation allows my brain to not be further over stimulated by me talking and him talking. Sometimes we also just sit there comfortably, or he’ll even read to me if I ask him to.

A big part of nonverbal communication is having preset ideas, boundaries, or organization when the person is verbal or by writing them down.

For children, this is an even bigger issue because as adults and teens we learn to handle our emotions better from years of studying others and practicing, but as a child things are so much more surreal. They can be devastating, even if it’s something that seems as small as a routine change. Having open communication and various ways of communicating can change a whole child’s perspective of themselves and their going nonverbal. It can make it much easier to cope with and easier to help them get through.

For teenagers and adults, it can be extremely frustrating still because many non-autistic or allistic people have the idea that autism only affects children, so often we are called immature or told that we’re old enough to use our words, which can make the anxiety or anger worse that we’re already experiencing. The same goes for us as does children: accommodations = less stress = quicker coordinating and resolving.

Here are some ways you can help your nonverbal friend!

  • Ask them what they need!
    • Asking them and offering them a notepad and pen can be the most helpful thing you can do!
  • Offer them things
    • Offer them water, a blanket, their stim things, any comfort objects, etc. Anything that you know makes them feel better!
  • Only ask yes and no questions
    • This is so they can nod and shake their head. The first thing you should ask is “Are you nonverbal?” and then “Is it okay for me to talk?” Often times, being forced to listen to others speak can be overwhelming as well!
  • Realize that we are likely frustrated with ourselves and getting angry only hurts us.
    • I often get angry with myself about being unable to talk, and when someone gets angry at me, it makes me feel stupid and like a bother.
  • Do not treat us like we aren’t there/can’t hear. We can.
    • Often we get treated like we’re not actually present, when most of us can hear everything you’re saying and see everything you’re doing. It can be very hurtful to have a loved one and/or caregiver talk disrespectfully about us when we’re struggling the most.

So to recap, going nonverbal is a big part of many anxiety disorders and autism. It can be very stressful for the nonverbal person, regardless of age or reason. Having pre-organized forms of communication that don’t require talking is the best way you can help your nonverbal loved one!

 

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