Daily Archives: July 3, 2007

Dialects of nonverbal language.


(Inspired by a recent discussion with Joel on this blog.)

I took a class once where we learned how nonverbal language can vary from culture to culture, both in terms of intonation and body language. The same seems true from brain type to brain type.

I’ve known for awhile that autistic people tend overall to make more sense to me than non-autistic people. This is an overall tendency though. Some are this way more than others.

Joel Smith is a really good example of someone whose body language is almost completely comprehensible to me, and vice versa. We were instantly like open books to each other, in a way so extreme as to be uncomfortable. Too many layers: What we are feeling, what we feel about that, what we want to be feeling, what we want to look like we’re feeling, all in a big jumble. As Joel said, it’s like being naked, and not always in a pleasant way. I began to understand why there are so many polite conventions among non-autistic people built around sparing each other’s feelings: They can often see all that about each other, and it must be a protection and a politeness to avoid being too invasive.

Phil Schwarz is someone I can read somewhat, but not the way Joel and I can read each other. I can read Phil because I grew up around my brother, and my brother and Phil have a lot in common in terms of certain intonation and movement patterns. Their bodies look nothing alike, but something about their mannerisms and speech has a likeness. I have met several other people who fall into this general category.

And there seem to be a lot of different “dialects” of body language among autistic people in general, independent of the assorted cultural overlays we also develop. I also find that these boundaries often totally defy the standard categorizations of autistic people, whether HFA/LFA or autism/AS. I find this interesting, when not finding it too much like nudity.