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Body Language 101: Tips for Adults on the Autism Spectrum

As most of us know, people with Aspergers (high functioning autism) often have difficulty with social skills. A BIG part of this is due to the fact that they have trouble reading body language, which makes it increasing difficult for them to interact with others. The good news is that it’s possible to learn how to read body language through practice and role playing.

Noticing the signals that people send out with their body language is a crucial social skill. A few of us “Aspies” can read it naturally, but most of us are notoriously oblivious. Fortunately, with a little extra attentiveness, you can learn to read body language, and with enough practice it can become second nature.

Body language often encompasses (a) how our bodies connect with material things (e.g., pens, cigarettes, spectacles and clothing), (b) how we position our bodies, (c) how we touch ourselves and others, (d) our breathing, (e) our closeness to - and the space between - us and other people and how this changes, (f) our eyes – especially how our eyes move and focus, and (g) our facial expressions. Being able to “read” body language therefore helps us greatly to understand ourselves better, understand better how people might be perceiving our own non-verbal signals, and know how people feel and what they mean.

The following list will no doubt seem daunting in its entirety. Thus, I suggest just picking a few (3 or 4) to work on (possibly the ones that feel the easiest to implement given your current strengths).

40 Tips for Reading Body Language:
  1. A clenched fist can indicate anger or solidarity.
  2. A thumbs up and thumbs down are often used as gestures of approval and disapproval.
  3. Blinking is natural, but you should also pay attention to whether a person is blinking too much or too little. People often blink more rapidly when they are feeling distressed or uncomfortable. Infrequent blinking may indicate that a person is intentionally trying to control his or her eye movements. For example, a poker player might blink less frequently, because he is purposely trying to appear unexcited about the hand he was dealt.
  4. Clasping the hands behind the back might indicate that a person is feeling bored, anxious, or even angry.
  5. Closed posture involves keeping the obscured or hidden often by hunching forward and keeping the arms and legs crossed. This type of posture can be an indicator of hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety.
  6. Crossed arms might indicate that a person is feel defensive, self-protective, or closed-off.
  7. Crossed legs can indicate that a person is feeling closed off or in need of privacy.
  8. Dilated pupils mean that the person is interested. Keep in mind, however, that many substances cause pupils to dilate, including alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, LSD and others. Don't mistake having a few drinks for attraction.
  9. If people purposely touch their feet to yours, they are flirting!
  10. If someone mimics your body language, this is a very genuine sign that they are trying to establish rapport with you. Try changing your body position here and there. If you find that they change theirs similarly, they are mirroring.
  11. If someone’s eyes seem focused far away, that usually indicates that he or she is in deep thought or not listening.
  12. Lowered eyebrows and squinted eyes illustrate an attempt at understanding what is being said or going on. It's usually skeptical. This is presuming they are not trying to observe something that's far away.
  13. Lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something. Take note if someone lowers their head. If it is when he is complimented, he may be shy, ashamed, timid, keeping distance from the other person, in disbelief, or thinking to himself or herself. If it is after an explanation, then he may be unsure if what he said was correct, or could be reflecting. 
  14. One of the most subtle cues that eyes provide is through the size of the pupils. While light levels in the environment control pupil dilation, sometimes emotions can also cause small changes in pupil size. For example, you may have heard the phase "bedroom eyes" used to describe the look someone gives when they are attracted to another person.
  15. Open posture involves keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed. This type of posture indicates friendliness, openness, and willingness.
  16. Overly tilted heads are either a potential sign of sympathy, or if a person smiles while tilting their head, they are being playful and maybe even flirting.
  17. Pay attention to how physically close someone is to you. The closer they are, the warmer they are thinking of you. If you move slightly closer to them and they move even closer to you, they probably really like you or are very comfortable around/by you. But this could also mean that they have a special comfort with you, a strong friendship, or they consider you a member of their family. 
  18. People sometimes bite their lips when they are worried, anxious, or stressed. 
  19. People who are rubbing their hands together or somehow touching their own body might be comforting themselves (which means they aren't enjoying the current situation).
  20. People who look to the sides a lot are nervous, lying, or distracted. However, if a person looks away from the speaker, it very well could be a comfort display or indicate submissiveness. Looking askance generally means the person is distrustful or unconvinced.
  21. People with crossed arms are closing themselves to social influence. Though some people just cross their arms as a habit, it may indicate that the person is slightly reserved, uncomfortable with their appearance (i.e., self-conscious and trying to cover it), or just trying to hide something on their shirt. If their arms are crossed while their feet are shoulder width or wider apart, this is a position of toughness or authority.
  22. Personal space is culturally fluid; keep in mind that what is considered close in one country is far away in another.
  23. Pursed lips might be an indicator of distaste, disapproval, or distrust. 
  24. Rapidly tapping fingers or fidgeting can be a sign that a person is bored, impatient, or frustrated.
  25. Slight changes in the mouth can also be subtle indicators of what a person is feeling. When the mouth is slightly turned up, it might mean that the person is feeling happy or optimistic. On the other hand, a slightly down-turned mouth can be an indicator of sadness, disapproval, or even an outright grimace. 
  26. Some cultures believe that looking at someone in the eyes is a sign of disrespect, or is only done with intimate friends or family, so this could explain why someone is avoiding eye contact with you.
  27. Some people may point their feet to the direction of where they want to go or sometimes their interest. So if it's pointing at you, he/she may be interested in you.
  28. Someone that looks down at the floor a lot is probably shy or timid. People also tend to look down when they are upset, or trying to hide something emotional. People are often thinking and feeling unpleasant emotions when they are in the process of staring at the ground.
  29. Someone who brushes their hair back with their fingers may be preening, a common gesture if the person likes you, or their thoughts about something conflict with yours. They might not voice this. If you see raised eyebrows during this time, you can be pretty sure that they disagree with you.
  30. Standing with hands placed on the hips can be an indication that a person is ready and in control, or it can also possibly be a sign of aggressiveness.
  31. The "Okay" gesture, made by touching together the thumb and index finger in a circle while extending the other three fingers can be used to mean okay. In some parts of Europe, however, the same signal is used to imply you are nothing. In some South American countries, the symbol is actually a vulgar gesture.
  32. The V sign, created by lifting the index and middle finger and separating them to create a V-shape, means peace or victory in some countries. In the United Kingdom and Australia, the symbol takes on an offensive meaning when the back of the hand is facing outward.
  33. Tilted heads mean that they are confused or challenging you, depending on their eye, eyebrow, and mouth gestures. Think of how a dog slightly tilts its head when you make a funny noise.
  34. When a person is sitting, feet crossed at the ankles, this means they're generally at ease.
  35. When a person looks directly into your eyes when having a conversion, it indicates that they are interested and paying attention. However, prolonged eye contact can feel threatening. On the other hand, breaking eye contact and frequently looking away may indicate that the person is distracted, uncomfortable, or trying to conceal his or her real feelings.
  36. When a person who wears glasses is constantly pushing them up onto their nose again with a slight frown, this may indicate they disagree with what you are saying. 
  37. When people want to hide an emotional reaction, they might cover their mouths in order to avoid displaying a smile or smirk. 
  38. When someone rests their arms behind their neck or head, they are open to what is being discussed or just laid back in general.
  39. When we meet someone for the first time, their body language, on conscious and unconscious levels, largely determines our initial impression of them. In turn, when someone meets us for the first time, they form their initial impression of us largely from our body language and non-verbal signals. 
  40. While standing, if a person seems to always keep their feet very close together, it probably means they are trying to be "proper" in some way. Sometimes feet together means that they are feeling more submissive or passive.

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Anonymous said... I'm 27 and feeling very frustrated about Love i have had one Girlfriend but still find myself in doubt about Love. Yet I feel something telling me I will love again. I find myself also very out of place, and wondering why I compare myself to a few college friends a few years younger than me who are engaged. Sure their relationships aren't easy I know that but I don't wanna spend the rest of my life alone. I already dealt with that pain of loneliness which is what I hated going through as a child. Personally I also have a hard time asking people for help cause when I was younger during my late teens in high school I was going through an extremely stressful time and whenever I would ask for help from someone I knew they would always say "I'm too busy to hear your problems".  Lastly i'm still trying to get over suppressing my emotions in general. the area I live in doesn't have many people with Asperger's Syndrome and there's only one other person 4 years younger than me with Asperger's and she's far more happier.

Anonymous said... I take too much time to understand what people want and this time is enough to make me feel that the relationship is lost forever. When I was a teenager I thought it was only a phase, but in the last years I was getting tired of it and trying to live only by myself, believing that it was the only way I could live. But Just a few days ago I became aware of asperger and I suffered a lot thinking on how much harm I may have done to people and frustrated of not knowing of asperger before. However I feel as if a new door was open to me and I am trying to understand it better.

Anonymous said... I am 30 years old and I've ever thought that my problems should disappear with time. I am married and a few days ago my wife told me I looked like an autist and I started to remember that many colleagues and friends have told me the same when I was a teenager and I thought they were kiding. After that I started to read about asperger and I feel that I am an asperger, but I don't know what to do. I am reading a lot about it now and it looks like my way of dealing with my asperger was creating a crust to pretend I am normal and believing I will find my way somehow. Now I don't know exactaly what to do, most because I have created a social face that looks very self-centred and it is very difficult to find someone to talk about that. I've have learned how to stabblish casual conversations with people, but I never know how to go further. I suffer a lot and now I am experiencing a sort of relief by knowing what my problem is. If someone want to chat, please contact me here, since I can't find anybody like me around right now and those with who I could talk about that are not near and I have difficulties on reestablishing those relations. 

Anonymous said... I know about smiles and frowns, but the rest just seems like too much. Even if I memorize it, I won't remember it while it's happening. Plus there is so much that involves eye contact. How can I know what they are thinking and feeling when I can't even look at their eyes??

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