Model Behavior

My youngest son and I were having an argument, and it wasn’t going well.
His ropey arms were crossed over his skinny chest, and an exaggerated frown pulled his lips and eyebrows down at exactly the same angle.
I felt that his room needed to be cleaned.  He disagreed.  When I played the mommy card, “Because I said so,” he pulled out the big guns: this caricature of displeasure.
***
As a college student taking freshman psychology, I was required to participate in experiments.  Cheap (read as “free”) test subjects for experiments designed by grad students.
During one of these experiments, pictures were flashed onto a large screen for just a fraction of a second, and we were meant to write down the emotion we saw on the person in the picture. 
Later it was explained that this tested our ability to read non-verbal cues—the messages we send with our facial expressions and body language.
Why is that important?  Studies have suggested that only 7% of our communication actually happens through language, which means that 93% of our communication is through those nonverbal cues. 
I find it ironic that I participated in this experiment, because years later my youngest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  His position on the autism spectrum means that for some reason his brilliant brain simply doesn’t see or understand nonverbal cues. 
Sort of like colorblindness, in a way.  Except he’s blind to 93% of the communication we use as human beings, instead of just being unclear on the difference between green and blue.
I look at those numbers and think, the world of human interaction is an iceberg: 10% or less is on the surface—obvious because it’s what we say.  The biggest part of it, the dangerous part of it, is the 90% lurking under the ebb and tide of our conversations—body language, facial expressions.
It’s that 90% that will sink you, just ask the Titanic.
***
Back to my son, and our little disagreement.
He’s seventeen, and very bright.  He’s fully aware that there are icebergs floating on the sea of communication he’s trying to navigate.
So he takes what he knows and mimics it. 
Arms crossed over the chest, lips and eyebrows drawn down.  This is displeasure.
It’s also a mirror.
It is an exact replica of the body language I adopted a micro-second ago, instinctively, to express how I felt.
This is how he steers around the icebergs.  Sometimes it works and he enjoys smooth sailing.  Sometimes it doesn’t, and he plows right in.  He keeps sailing either way, because the only other option is sinking.
And he’s unsinkable.

This post is my response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write using a line about someone crossing their arms (I’m paraphrasing).  The image that popped into my head was of my son, attempting to argue with me, copying my body language.  Using my mannerisms to express himself.  As frustrating as autism is, there are also those moments of wonder and humor.  

Thank you for stopping by, and please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments!

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19 thoughts on “Model Behavior

  1. I notice that now we can post at midnight eastern, you and I are the first eager to link up lol!

    I know all about the “lack of non-verbal communication.” It's one of those things that made us think that our daughter had Aspergers, even though other things about her show that she probably does not.

    But I'm left wondering from this post… he crossed his arms to imitate you, but what was going through his mind? “I'll do this, she'll think I'm cute, and I won't be in trouble?” or maybe “I have no idea what to make of this body language, so I'll do the same thing and see how she reacts.” ???

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  2. He mimics the body language he understands…whether or not it actually makes sense for the situation – but it's cute and occasionally endearing. Not enough to get him out of trouble, though! LOL

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  3. That is so interesting, how he mimics body language. So true about non-verbal communication. My three year-old knows exactly when he's in trouble simply by my body language, even if I haven't raised my voice.

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  4. I enjoyed this very much. Thank you for sharing! Can you please help me out with something? I am researching autism to write a non-fiction pice and a fiction piece. Do you have any advice about the fiction piece?

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  5. What a great analogy! and that quip about the Titanic, brilliant! A quick correction though, here I think you meant “difference”

    unclear on the different between green and blue.

    This was a lovely, endearing post and an enjoyable read.

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  6. I love this piece. I work in the counseling field and am always trying to get across to the teenagers I work with that their non-verbal cues are what's getting them in trouble most of the time. I'll have to remember your analogy.

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  7. The biggest part of it, the dangerous part of it, is the 90% lurking under the ebb and tide of our conversations—body language, facial expressions.

    Simply love this sentence! So true in so many different situations. I also love the segues between events. A nice, tight read : )

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  8. I have always thought it would be difficult to miss those cues, and I love the way you use the iceberg reference to explain how he's attempting to work around the body language that doesn't always come naturally or obviously to him.

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  9. I like that you could pull from a recent moment with your son to inform and entertain. This was touching and funny and interesting – thanks for sharing it!

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