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Is supporting non-verbal cues (gestures, facial expression, tone of voice, etc) the role of occupational therapy or speech pathology?  

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From: 2nd year speech pathology student. 

Hello, how lovely it is to have engagement in this blog from a budding professional. Non-verbal supports is one of the biggest things we ALL do here at FFT for a range of reasons. But overall the answer to your question is….BOTH. The reason for this is the impact of successful non-verbal skills has on function overall AND one’s ability to use and interpret communication more accurately.  

Working with a lot of children who have social communication differences, we take time to give them the opportunity to ‘put together’ both the verbal and non-verbal communicative aspects that someone may give. As an example, being able to ‘combine’ what someone is pointing at with their words “oooo I like that one” gives them a greater ability to interpret what someone is talking about and, in turn, be able to respond more cooperatively. Similarly, being able to use gestures and facial expressions to add meaning to what we are trying to convey to others is a highly useful skill. It means we can use a multitude of ways to ‘put an idea into someone’s head’ so they can respond to us more effectively.  

You may want to look out for the following things as potential markers of differences in understanding non-verbal communication.  

  • A child doesn’t naturally ‘look toward’ (i.e. reference) others in their space 
  • A child relies on explicit instructions or specific language to ‘figure out what to do’  
  • A child tries to verbally tell you ALL aspects of something or what their idea is without adding in body language etc. 
  • A child is ‘way off’ when you try to point to something across the room. E.g. they look in a place or get something that isn’t close to what you’re pointing at. 

A good resource for some of this stuff is our brochure on Social Foundation Skills available for free download on our website.  

Happy observations 

A combined answer between our occupational therapists and speech therapist.