Have you ever thought about how confusing the world must often be for someone who has difficulty interpreting non-verbal forms of communication such as facial expressions, hand gestures and other body language? J never pointed at objects, or hand led me to the things he wanted. He never nodded his head or shrugged or waved or gestured telling me to be quiet. He had issues interpreting my tone of voice, my facial expressions and my posture. I once read somewhere that 35% of all human communication is verbal and the rest is non-verbal. When your operating system is different, this can be tricky.
One afternoon James and I were discussing his day at school whilst sharing afternoon tea. He mentioned that a girl in his class had been in trouble at school that day.
J: Mum, something weird happened at school today.
M: Something weird? What happened?
J: Well … Mary (not her real name) got a detention.
M: Oh … poor Mary … did she make a bad choice today?
J: Well … that’s what I don’t really understand Mum.
M: What don’t you understand?
J: She got a detention for doing something with her eyes.
M: Oh? Really? With her eyes?
J: Yes! She was talking to Mrs Jones (not her real name) and then Mrs Jones told her to go and sit somewhere else and then that’s when she did something with her eyes … because Mrs Jones got very cross and told Mary she had a detention.
M: Ohhhhh … do you think that maybe Mary rolled her eyes at Mrs Jones?
J: No! Don’t be ridiculous Mum … Mary can’t take out her own eye balls!
M: Of course not! J just look at my face now OK because I’m going to show you with my face what eye ball rolling looks like! <<cue me rolling my eyes at him in a highly overdramatised way>>
J: So your eyes roll back in your head? Why is that a problem?
M: When you roll your eyes at someone you’re sending a message to them with your body. When Mary rolled her eyes at Mrs Jones, she was sending a message to Mrs Jones that she didn’t respect what she was saying.
J: Well … that’s actually pretty rude!
M: Yes – it is rather rude. Oh well … I’m pretty sure Mary won’t make that mistake again. How did it make you feel when Mary got into trouble today?
J: Well I didn’t really know about the thing with her eyes … so I just thought … I better just keep my eyes just like this <<cue J showing me unblinking, intense eyes looking directing ahead>> for the rest of the day because I do NOT want to get a detention.
Such a seemingly small exchange … but with a huge amount of lost information for those receiving the message if they cannot interpret the signals. Worth remembering isn’t it?