Body language refers to voluntary or involuntary movements of the body that serve as a form of communication. These movements may include gestures, facial expressions, and whole-body movements.
Voluntary movements are thought out and intentionally made by the student toward a communication partner. Involuntary movements are not pre-determined and may occur whether or not a communication partner is present. These may include increased muscle tone, reflexive movements, and facial expressions and are most often an outward expression of an internal reaction to something in the environment.
Again, this strategy, if a match for a student’s needs, skills and existing strategies, can further expand a multi-modal communication system.
Body language is not always obvious. It is another ‘quiet’ communication strategy. Its naturalness and simplicity can also make it easy for partners to miss. This is another reason why communication partners need to be tuned into each student and all his/her communicative behaviors.
Body language can give clues as to a student’s communicative intent. It is especially helpful with emerging communicators, individuals who generally communicate non-symbolically and who require partner interpretation of behaviors.
To read body language correctly, the partner must take into account background information about the student, any other communicative strategies being used, and the environment. For instance, a student with cerebral palsy may exhibit gross changes in muscle tone which may indicate either a strong preference or a strong aversion. Therefore, it is important to look at other modes the student is using to communicate - such as facial expressions, vocalizations, etc. – and to check in with the student about your interpretation.
Body language can sometimes be shaped into a more formal communicative gesture.
George shows his teacher that he would prefer to have his scheduled snack break than participate in the activity with the switch.