Gestures and Communication: Part 2

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 2

In Dr. Gutstein’s last episode he talked about the importance of gestures when communicating. in the latest episode of ASD: A New Perspective, Dr. Gutstein goes a little deeper into the subject, discussing the role of gestures in communication and the important role they play with autism.

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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 with your child, and we do encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, and in this week’s podcast, Dr. Gutstein continues his two-part podcast series on gesture and communication for your child.

Dr. Gutstein: Gestures also for young children are one of the ways that they develop self-communication, interestingly enough. So, you see a child who, a very young child, who’s not yet internally or self-communicating with words and you can see them sort of moving their hand towards a place where they’re going as sort of a lead to them helping themselves to make sure they’re getting to where they want to go and holding on to that.

Dr. Gutstein: That later becomes language-based but it starts with self-gesturing. And so that’s interesting as well. And it starts very, very early. I think it’s an area that we don’t pay enough attention to, and anything we can do to give our kids more support and to sort of amplify their functioning without increasing the cognitive strain or the information processing train, I think is a great thing.

Dr. Gutstein: So, one of the things we do, of course, when we are forming experience representations are always doing enactments. We’re not using narrative words, we’re doing enactments. We can use language, too, but we find if we just use words, the emotions out of them, they become too distant, the re-experiencing doesn’t occur very well.

Dr. Gutstein: And even when we’re recollecting we’re experiencing, we do partial enactments as well with our bodies. And what gesture is … I mean when young children do enactments they use their whole body, right? They’re moving and they’re really, really playing out with their bodies what’s happening and moving around, gesture becomes an abbreviation of that, if you think about it. It’s the abbreviation of all that full-bodied movement into your hands.

Dr. Gutstein: And it’s what we have. It’s one of the reasons, not the only reason we have hands but it’s one of the reasons that we use hands in communication so much. Is that rather than move our bodies so much. So, you think about primitive tribes telling a story and they might use their gesture and their hands to [inaudible 00:02:37] and then this happened and then this happened. They try to communicate to someone else, where they weren’t writing it, but they were using gesture.

Dr. Gutstein: And they weren’t necessarily moving, they didn’t have to take the person to that place, but it became a way of symbolizing or representing the dynamic action, the dynamic movement much better, in fact, than words did. Or along with words or [inaudible 00:02:57] words.

Dr. Gutstein: So, in terms of communication, but also in terms of your own experience and your own learning, it’s really important to experiment with that, think about that. Think about adding that and don’t get over focused on just language things. That’s one of the problems we see especially with high functioning kids with autism is, especially when you look at their recollection, their episodic memory, their biographical memory, it’s dead. It doesn’t have emotion attached to it. It doesn’t have any feelings. They don’t have any feeling attached to it.

Dr. Gutstein: So, the encoding, the recollecting was done in a sort of disembodied way. That sense of somebody being disembodied, and I think that we hear that a lot with our high functioning kids is they’re disembodied, they act that way. And so movement, gesture and body learning becomes a really critical element for sense of self, self-awareness and reflection for all kinds of learning. And for communication.

Dr. Gutstein: So, it sort of goes both ways.

Kat Lee: I have a comment and a question, I guess, combined in one.

Dr. Gutstein: Absolutely. Let’s talk about it.

Kat Lee: As I’m watching you communicate I’m thinking about how we just kind of, from a social skills, which you and I talked about, try to teach somebody to interact in a way that was not natural to what they were saying, how much trouble that would cause them.

Dr. Gutstein: Yeah, no, absolutely.

Kat Lee: And I’ve seen that with the skill … okay now gesture now when you’re talking and okay do this now and of course that’s not how you and I do it. It’s an outgrowth of whatever we’re trying to express. Like you said, it’s that connection. It’s not an okay here’s where you do this. Like you said, a politician might have to be taught to do it but even they would have to feel the connection-

Dr. Gutstein: Yeah. You can’t do it in a scripted way. Here’s when you gesture this, here’s when you gesture that. It just becomes a way of operating. It becomes an automatic habit of doing that. You can start out mindfully with it and just play with it a little bit if you have a child, a teenager, whatever and you can say, “Let’s just play with these gestures, you know, of stop.”

Dr. Gutstein: That’s the things that they may not even be aware of, stop. One more, slow down, slow, slow down. And then use it for yourself to slow down. Let’s see. To use it as you’re thinking out loud. Let’s see, what am I thinking about? Am I doing it … wait a minute I need to stop for a second. For self-regulation, I need to stop.

Dr. Gutstein: And again, to create bridges with someone else, to show how big it is. Just to start beginning things. Like “Oh, it was that big. And took a long time. I went really slow. And then I started to go faster and faster and faster.” Right? So, you can start … those are very authentic, very easy non-scripted ways of doing that that sort of build in a natural sense of gestures.

Dr. Gutstein: So, this one is a very good one, right, or any kind of variation of this, of you and me, right? Hey, we can do that, you know? Or, do you understand me?

Dr. Gutstein: But I think that you could play with it. So, wow, they’re higher and higher and higher as we were going in the airplane. We were going faster and faster and faster. You can use different variations of it. Faster, faster, faster, faster.

Dr. Gutstein: But you’ll notice that people with autism don’t often do that. Or I got really nervous and I was really worried about it. What am I gonna do? And so, we start to recognize that you have this incredible modality that is very powerful in many ways for yourself or for others. And just play with it like that.

Dr. Gutstein: Again, you’re starting out very simple. How high was it? It was high. And it got higher. And it got smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. And it was really tiny. Right? And some of the kids may already be doing that. Some people are already doing that but it’s something to be thinking about observing and then, again, play with it, make it authentic, make it a habit, sort of a mental habit, that just starts to accompany both your communication, your recollection, your coding of memory if you’re working on that.

Dr. Gutstein: And even your own problem solving, right? Okay, now what’ll I have to do? It’s funny ’cause it’s not like a particular gesture is more important than another gesture. Let’s say I’m stuck here. Let’s see. Well, maybe there’s a different way I can go. And it’s funny just engaging your body in that way we find is very powerful and is very helpful and as I said it’s not gonna put more of a stress on that person unless you force them to say, “Okay, what gesture do I have to do right now?” or “What is that person’s gesture mean?” We absolutely don’t wanna be doing that. That’s the worst thing ’cause then you bring all this extra processing stress that is not going to help them whatsoever in the real world.

Dr. Gutstein: But just the use of it and play with it I think has enormous benefit to people.

Kat Lee: And 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. And we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.



  1. Jamal

    This is typically clarify that, why spesch does not considered as a diagnostic criteria anymore in identifying ASD.

  2. Jamal

    This is why speech doesn’t considered as a diagnostic criteria anymore in identifying ASD.

  3. Rachelle Sheely

    I like this Episode as well. Please share it

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