Gestures and Communication: Part 1

The title art for the RDIconnect podcast "Autism: A New Perspective." The subtitle reads "The podcast show to understand what's going on in the mind of your child and encourage you that growth IS possible! Hosted by RDI Certified Consultant Kat Lee."
Autism: A New Perspective
Gestures and Communication: Part 1

Welcome back to RDIconnect’s podcast show all about raising your child with autism. In this week’s episode, Dr Gutstein talks all about the importance of gestures in communicating with others.

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Full Transcript

Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD, A New Perspective. The podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. We do encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee and in this week’s podcast, Dr. Gutstein talks about the importance of gesture in communicating with others.

Dr. Gutstein: What we’re finding, and I think it’s true of all human beings. For people with processing vulnerabilities, the more that we can make learning as part of your body, the more effective it is and the more that you’re going to be able to re-experience and form really good episodic memory. There’s a whole literature on gesture. What we like to do is consider gesture… There’s two thoughts of gesture. One is communicative gesture. It’s not just pointing. There’s been a fascination with pointing in the Autism literature. We don’t do a lot of pointing.

Kat Lee: We don’t. It’d be odd if we did.

Dr. Gutstein: In the second year of life there’s pointing but after that, we don’t do a lot of pointing. I don’t wanna talk about that right now. That’s a little bit of a different topic and to develop experience sharing and [inaudible 00:01:54] is one of the first ways that we actually can share a common experience. By gesturing, what I’m doing now. But there’s two types of gesturing. One is gesturing as a communication. What we find is that it’s very important to include gesture as part of working with communication and developing communication. Remember, it’s not this type of gesture but it’s also a way of pacing oneself in communication, too. It’s also a way of increasing the sense of relatedness between yourself and others.

Dr. Gutstein: What we wanna think about is gesture not as something you’re gonna teach. Think about it this way… First of all, culturally we use gesture in very different ways. Also, it’s improvisational. It’s not something you would teach this, this, and this. You can start it out that way. In other words, communicationally you can start out gesturing there, gesturing like this. Faster. Slower. Pacing. Eventually though, it’s not so much that as it becomes improvisational. You certainly can begin that way. You can use it for emphasis. You can use it for surprise. One of the great ways of using it is engaging with people.

Dr. Gutstein: It’s nice because it’s something that is very powerful but we’re not very conscious of it either when we’re using it or when we’re involved in somebody else’s gesture. It’s also very emotionally powerful. What we find is the more that we move communication. Let’s go back. Communication gesture and then we’ll talk about self gesture.

Dr. Gutstein: The more we move communication gesture away from words into more of an embodied level, the more that it becomes experience both by person and by the other person as more authentic, as more involving feelings, more just a bunch words there. The more it is felt sort of distant, detached as well. I think one of the things we’ve been doing with our kids in terms of developing more authentic communication is to start to practice gesture. You can start in simple frameworks like this. Then you can move to more complexity after a while. It’s also a lot of fun and it makes you more aware. You can also use it, there’s a hybrid form, where you can use it not just to communicate to another person, bridging the gap, but also as a way of pacing your own communication.

Dr. Gutstein: Again, you can use it as a pace to slow yourself down. You can also use it as a way to stop and think. What we find is that it becomes a very powerful tool. In Autism, there is such a focus on the eyes which is really spooky. We don’t worry about eye contact. What we do, because we get more than enough stuff but what we don’t get is the special dynamic quality of communication.

Dr. Gutstein: Now the key here is not to teach someone to interpret other people’s gestures. It’s known as an online dynamic process. You’re not gonna sit there and interpret a gesture. It’s more of a flow. A gesture is something that’s flowing. You can teach people to use gesture in initially a more mindful. The mindful part has to fade out. One of the problems of all these social interventions is they wind up using up all of your neuro-potential so consciously trying to figure things out or do things. The problem is that inter-personal encounters are not occurring on that conscious level. Partially, in terms of thinking about what you want to say. But what happens with people with Autism is they are taught to interpret cues, determine what they are going to think, what they’re going to say, how they are going to say it. It uses up everything in this sort of artificial scripted procedural level. The person just went out. It’s what is not being called camouflaging. Sort of faking it and using up all the other energy in this sort of procedural, task related…

Dr. Gutstein: There’s no enjoyment, no motivation. Women with Autism tend to do that a lot more than men and they wind up with severe depression because they get nothing out of these relationships. They are just basically surviving and they are gonna screw it up because you can’t function that way. When you add gesture in this way is not so much to worry about conscious interpretation but it becomes a way of moving away from sort of digital words to more of an analog sense of flow. Experience the flow. When you’re using it, your body. You tend to move more into an experiential state. When we’re using our body, we tend to use that part of the brain that manages experiences. Many people with Autism have been taught to use language as a task. As a performance based measure. They wind up losing the sense of experience. The sense of flow with other people.

Dr. Gutstein: It’s really a fun thing to do. You don’t wanna do it initially. You do it later, after a bit more sophisticated. You can watch people. You might wanna watch people with Autism and see people who work and how much are they using gesture.

Dr. Gutstein: And there’s a cultural issue but every culture uses gesture in different ways. You adapt it to the culture you are working with. There are universal things. There’s a sense of connection. One of the things that’s neat about gestures, look how you can use it to build a bridge between people. You can use it for emphasis, you can use it to sort of “wait a minute.” That’s a very nice, powerful impact but it’s not off putting. Pointing might be but it’s not off putting. It’s not odd or weird. In fact, what we find if you think about people who are very good at influence – speakers, politicians – they know how to use gesture, they use it more deliberately or consciously. It becomes automatic for them too because we find that it’s an enormous amplifier.

Dr. Gutstein: Autism is so focused on words. The Autism community is obsessed with different things. It’s austically obsessed with different things. This is one of the great things that I think you can do. You can play with it. YOU can have them playing with gesture in different ways and develop it and make it more of an automatic habit. You can use it logically, you can show – we’re not talking about sign language here. Although it is, in a sense. It’s an emphasis. It’s an amplification. You can use it again for connecting or we can just use it in anyway we want to.

Dr. Gutstein: To be aware that you have that freedom and how powerful it is is something that everyone should know about. The people who are spending their lives like this and are not using it are really in a handicapped position.

Dr. Gutstein: What happens in the brain is it doesn’t add more complexity to the brain. It actually relieves it because we’re using different areas of the brain. We’re really emphasizing. We’re actuating more of the experienced part of the brain which is what we wanna do. Rather than adding more complexity, it actually takes burden off the brain. We don’t have to do it all in words and it creates more of a flow between yourself and another person. You’ll find that they’ll be more accepting and enthusiastic to be with you.

Dr. Gutstein: Some of the things when you think about gestures and when you think about differently from pointing in the second year but as a lifelong way of operating and communicating, I think it’s something that everybody should be much more aware of.

Kat Lee: Thanks for joining us for ASD – A New Perspective. The podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. We encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, see you next time.


1 Comment

  1. Anat Shemer

    Thank you for a great podcast. It is very helpful that you provide the transcript. For this specific topic, it seems that speaking about gestures would benefit from a video and not just audio. There are times when Dr. Gutstein is saying “doing like this” and I would love to see what “like this” is…

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