I have been thinking about gestures. When I was assessed the observation that I don’t move my hands while talking was commented on. Remembering that in the early nineties I read a novel by Milan Kundera called ‘Immortality’, that is about gestures -among other things- I fished it out and reread it. Kundera notes that given the billions of people, past and present, on this planet, the number of people far outnumbers the number of gestures, ‘it is difficult to suppose that every individual has his or her own repertory of gestures,’ mathematically it’s not possible. A gesture is more individual than an individual. This leads me to the belief that gestures exist in essence before the individual makes use of them.
It has only been on very rare occasions that I have had to ask someone what a particular gesture means. From a young age we are taught to wave goodbye, we know that the Queen waves her hand while driving by, what a two fingered salute is, thumbs up, pointing, all the common gestures are decipherable. It’s the seemingly random gestures while talking I can find inexplicable even unnecessary. When I researched the reason for these movements the main reason given is timing and pacing.
Does this mean that those of us on the spectrum don’t use timing and pacing in our speech, or do we not augment the timing and pacing with gestures? And why are ND’s just as capable as NT’s of producing original musical compositions, but don’t use pre-existing gestures to accompany their speech?
Sorry if that was boring.
Thank you for your replies. Forums are a new territory - social media were anathema to me, I still feel it to be slightly inappropriate when posting (as if I am gate crashing or imposing myself), this may be a reflection of my age - but this forum has proved more helpful than the piecemeal assistance available through more conventional avenues and my opposition is retreating. The above parentheses, perhaps, betray that I am also rereading Proust. Rather than separate replies, I shall attempt to further this discussion by referring to individual points in this post.
Like many people diagnosed with a form or category of autism, I wanted to know, ‘what is autism?’ The main observable traits - listed on any google search - are asserted to be gestures, facial expressions and mono-tonal speech - social interaction. There are others such as rocking or similar but I don’t have personal experience of these. At a group meeting of Aspies and HFA’s I noticed that gestures were either absent or minimal and not obviously allied to the cadences or emphases of speech. Speech was to various degrees mono tonal. Music, however, was universally admired. An appreciation of music surely requires an innate understanding of timing and pitch. In my determination to understand the foundations of the AS, I wondered if the disparity between the appreciation of music and the non-appreciation or non-application of some gestural expressions would reveal the essence of autism.
To explore this, I hope you will excuse my use of an extended metaphor. An analogue radio works roughly as follows: a radio station broadcasts over a certain frequency, the radio dial is turned until that frequency is matched and the sound is enabled to pass through. When listening to music our appreciation is - according to my metaphor - enabled by the tuning in to the pitch, timbre pacing etc and we are able to appreciate it. In social situations we do not always have appropriate frequency to process and reveal the content or intent. Our brains don’t always have the prerequisite frequencies installed.
I have necessarily had to expand this discussion to include voice tone and facial expressions due to your replies. These - I feel - could properly be described as gestural expressions. The diversity of those on the spectrum that some of you mention has forced me to widen my net, Some of you mention dance, I can appreciate and comprehend David Byrne’s movement in the video -possibly because I’m familiar with Byrne”s work - Cassandro links to. It is essentially a series of gestures interpreting the music and lyrics. Perhaps someone knows of an autistic choreographer? Dance is a gestural response to music, but can we always dance to the music of everyday life?
I have taken Cassandro’s advice and added a couple of tags to this discussion - thanks for the tip.
Like Cloudy Mountains I have been told I look younger than my age and I also put this down to my scarce use of facial expressions. There has to some compensations.
Well, I hope you get something out of the medium of forums on specific subjects, as I think you contribute to the NAS forums interestingly and appropriately. I haven't had patience for Proust beyond the first volume, I'm afraid.
Graham said:In my determination to understand the foundations of the AS, I wondered if the disparity between the appreciation of music and the non-appreciation or non-application of some gestural expressions would reveal the essence of autism.
If you can find the 'essence of autism', you're ahead of the researchers. Even after meeting a lot of aspies, I still find it difficult to know if there really is a cluster of related traits, a particular autistic role or essence; or instead a set of many preconditions that enable normal social functioning, and a difference in any one of them can be described as autism. So, while it's true that most autistic people appreciate music, and some may have perfect pitch or be good instrumentalists or even be musical savants, I also know some who are tone deaf or have no sense of rhythm. To extend your analogy further, some people are on too high a frequency for social interaction, some are on too low a frequency, and some are on AM when they should be on FM. Or DAB.
And yet another caveat is that a difference in understanding or expressing gestures might be a result of something else that is more 'essential'. Some gestures, like smiling, are innate to humans, while others, like nodding, are culture-specific. If the gestural or metalinguistic 'language' is a matter of learning, then not having exposure or practice would result in a perceived deficit. Some research I read suggested that not being able to identify emotions in the eyes is entirely accounted for by past lack of eye contact. So differences in gestures may be a result of being forced or inclined to be socially separate, not the other way around.
These are questions with scientific answers - I'm just not sure how many are known yet.
It does sound like there are a large number of us who don't 'transmit' much in tone of voice or emotional gestures, but I believe it can be learned. By the way, I also appear young for my years, but it's not a huge compensation when I haven't done that much with my decades so far.
Thanks for your comment about my postings.
I have always wanted to take things apart to see how they work. As a teenager, radios and amplifiers etc I could understand. I knew how valves, capacitors and resistors worked. In these days of computers and smart phones I’m flummoxed. Perhaps I should accept the same fate in trying to understand autism, (although that would be completely against character). I know that the autistic community is very diverse, but I can’t help thinking that there must be some commonalities, otherwise the word wouldn’t exist. Perhaps logic doesn’t answer all questions and it’s a catch all word.
There are probably NT people who are tone deaf and have no sense of rhythm.
I am not sure about smiling being innate to humans. I have to continually remind myself to return smiles, I have learned this. `i don’t automatically smile on meeting people. However, if I learned to smile - as you write - I could also learn changes in tone of voice and emotional gestures.
What are you trying to understand about Autism? I am a computer geek. And therefore I see that we all have our collection of transistors, capacitors (read capabilities) and we assemble, interpret, compile life’s code in order to run..we are intricate boxes of brightness and limitations. Both wonderfully capable, but also ridiculously inept.
I am also an avid reader to help me understand the nuances of human interaction and the different ways to interpret the world... reading scripts from other people’s life’s as a handbook of how to exist and go forward, of the possible and it’s consequences.
i am also at peace with nature, it’s free energy and the existence of a natural balance... raw but true in all its beauty, brutality and simplicity.
its good to see you settle on this communities leaf and show us your underwing
I would like to know how large a role autism plays in defining me. And do I define just one unit of a seemingly infinite number of definitions, or is there a common theme? If I can’t define autism how is it possible for me to reveal my inner wing?
Graham said:I would like to know how large a role autism plays in defining me. And do I define just one unit of a seemingly infinite number of definitions, or is there a common theme? If I can’t define autism how is it possible for me to reveal my inner wing?
I am also analytical, and like answers so I can have insight to myself and what might help. Recently, the following are the two pieces that most made me think that autism might refer to more of a definable 'thing' than a collection of many ways of something else being absent:
On the other hand, some of us (I'm thinking of myself), may lack both the focused autistic genotype and the general social success. (I could identify as 'monotropic', but don't think that's the principal cause of my problems.)
It's interesting that gestures are a form of externally-observed behaviour, so we can be anxious that we have a blind spot about them.
Graham said:I am not sure about smiling being innate to humans
I meant not culturally specific. It may vary between individuals within cultures. I think I have a problem with smiling at strangers perhaps because of anxiety, so good to hear you've learned it, but I'm not so good at self-monitoring.
'Referential signalling' (pointing) is found in some animals but not others. How do you train a sheepdog? (Maybe I should also look at mudras.)
Graham said:I can appreciate and comprehend David Byrne’s movement in the video -possibly because I’m familiar with Byrne”s work - Cassandro links to
That's more than I can. It's fairly easy to decode hand movements when people dance to, say, Jackson 5's 'Blame it on the Boogie', because they match lyrics like 'sun' and 'moon'. But Byrne - himself possibly autistic - may be taking the opportunity of free movement to play with ideas of gesture. The most I can get from 'This Must be the Place' is homely reference to chopping onions, then either an exploding casserole or admiring the neighbour's Leylandii.
This thread is pretty interesting! It's gone from gestures, to dance, to Talking Heads! I can dance pretty well if the song is full of drums and percussion instruments. If I've heard the record before I will move my body parts to where certain hits are once I've worked out the pattern.
You really shouldn't have mentioned Talking Heads, lol. If you watch most of Stop Making Sense, Byrne is really on time with his movements. He also mixes in a lot of gestures. Life During Wartime and especially Crosseyed and Painless are perfect examples. I love that concert.
Cassandro said:The most I can get from 'This Must be the Place' is homely reference to chopping onions, then either an exploding casserole or admiring the neighbour's Leylandii.
I love the line "Out of all those kinds of people, you got a face with a view". It seems really romantic. I like the double meaning. To me it means you are good looking but I can see a future with you. Anyway enough about Talking Heads, I'll keep typing, lol.
I suppose we should distinguish between mime, on the one hand, and direct interpersonal gestures, on the other. It seems some people here like me communicate ideas with their hands, but may not engage with our interlocutors' emotions via non-verbal signals. I've also been complimented on my dancing, but it's unusual and I'm almost always dancing alone.
Thanks for the interpretation of that line, which hadn't occurred to me (maybe we should start another thread: as you probably know Talking Heads said they were never interested in writing love songs, but that one happened anyway.) Did you see the gestures in the current tour I was referring to? They could come directly from the music, synaesthetically if that's a word, or from the lyrical theme, or be meaningless, and I can't work out which.
How easy is it to distinguish the neurodivergence in this area from simple shyness?
"You can be a shy extrovert or an outgoing introvert, and either of those may apply to someone on the autism spectrum.
In its simplest terms, an introvert is someone who regains energy through being alone. They get their energy from an internal source.
Being introverted doesn’t mean being shy or socially awkward or disliking people. In fact, many introverts love spending time with people, and are very socially adept, however being amongst crowds, noise, and bustle is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting for an introvert. Many introverts will avoid spending a lot of time in highly social situations for that reason.
The “opposite” of an introvert is an extrovert—which is to say, someone who regains energy through external sources. For an extrovert, being amongst crowds, noise, and bustle fills them with energy, so they tend to seek out such situations.
Note: Introversion and extroversion actually exist on a spectrum. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. It just happens that modern society has decided extroversion is “normal” or, at least, preferable. Which is, in the vernacular, a load of twaddle.
Someone who is shy feels anxious or fearful about interacting with other people. They may desperately want to find connection with others—they may, in fact, be highly extroverted and need interaction with others in order to energise—but their social fears hold them back.
Someone who is shy may avoid talking to people for fear of being judged or ridiculed. Like an introvert, a shy person may avoid highly social situations, but in this case the avoidance comes from a place of fear.
Shyness is something that can be overcome. It’s not a natural part of a person’s wiring, so to speak, but a learned response. Shyness is often a manifestation of low self-confidence or social anxiety.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
People on the spectrum have neurological differences to neurotypical, or “normal” people—differences that begin in the brain before they’re even born.
Autism is not a social disorder, although often a key “symptom” in diagnosing ASD is a lack of understanding/competence in social situations. People on the spectrum often have difficulty interpreting social cues and understanding social conventions.
Or, rather, people on the spectrum have difficulty instinctively doing those things—many people with ASD can learn how to do both.
Autism exists on a spectrum, and is the term used to describe a particular neurological difference.
It’s not related to introversion/extroversion or shyness directly. (Although feeling “different” may lead to someone with ASD becoming shy out of fear of being rejected.)"
And....off I flit....
Not sure I agree with all of that. Introversion, shyness and autism are distinct concepts (as perhaps are things like 'coy', 'demure', 'bashful', 'diffident', 'reserved', 'unassertive'), but overlap a lot. There's an old joke: what's the difference between an introverted depressive and an extroverted depressive? The extroverted depressive looks at someone else's shoes.
I'd say it's even possible to be 'outgoing' and 'shy' at the same time. You give an outward impression of interest and confidence, but if it comes to particular kinds of direct contact beyond pleasantries, you instinctively back away. It was often noted that when anyone came close to me, for a friendly hug say, I would flinch - it didn't stop me being able to talk in front of an audience.
I was thinking of intelligent autistic people I've met who I found it difficult to keep a conversation going with, are noticeably silent in groups, and whose thoughts and feelings it is hard to discern because of a lack of non-verbal signals. To me, looking down or away, and only occasionally flashing a smile in acknowledgement is likely to be decoded as both 'shy' and very 'introverted'. Shyness I'd mostly differentiate by saying that it's not a stable personality trait, but declines with social confidence.
According to the MBTI personality classification, only about 25% of people are introverts. This is an interesting article suggesting particular personality types may at least be more likely to be misdiagnosed as autistic because of autistic-like traits: http://oddlydevelopedtypes.com/content/intps-and-aspergers-syndrome-0
I'll maybe try some people-watching in a café, and then I expect to see some talkative Aspies in a few days, so will look out for their hand gestures.
I'd agree. It's not just black and white.
I've seen the shyest person in the room observe everything and know how to play the game. One of my closest friends is that guy. He doesn't dance, isn't overly funny or conversational. Not dull but doesn't "light up a room". He always got invited to everything, got the girls and could network in every part of life. Leads the life of an extrovert but is introverted. I know other people who are extroverted but can't keep a friend or get into any meaningful relationship. I think extrovertion and introvertion are very subjective. People will be one or the other in different aspects of their lives. I know another guy who would be the life and soul of the party but nobody knew much about him outside of the scene we were in.
One gift ASD has given me is that I don't hear the way things are said. I hear the intent. People who know me well will have heard me say "If you want something just ask me, I'll either say yes or no", "I'll make my own mind up about that" or just plain "So what do you want me to think/do". It's got me into trouble at times but I don't do the "ritual mating dance". Gestures, nuances and subtleties can be overrated at times.