Nonverbal Communication

Persons who stutter (PWS) face the challenge of ‘carryover’ from the very beginning of fluency therapy. The speech language pathologist (SLP) must offer guidance to the PWS regarding how to approach real life with new speech skills. One way to go about this can be to tap into the wealth of information available in the field of social-pragmatic communication. Research in the field of autism spectrum disorders provides detailed descriptions of social skills that will help in the design of carry over treatment goals. For example, I attended a workshop on Asperger’s Syndrome (2) in 2006 that included a 110 point Conversational Effectiveness Profile. Checklists such as this one provide the SLP and PWS with very specific choices from which to craft carry over goals.

Speech therapy for stuttering often emphasizes learning new speech skills along linguistic and speech-motor continuums. This means that practicing easy onset, for example, begins with syllables. Syllables are presumably easy to say because they are brief and have little/no semantic or syntactic demand. I suppose this would be similar to learning finger positions on an instrument. Gradually, the PWS practices his new speech skills in single words, then phrases, then sentences and longer speech tasks. This would be similar to learning chords, then short musical pieces and finally long, complex solos on an instrument.

The social-pragmatic literature draws our attention to the non-verbal aspects of communication that may be equally important in stuttering therapy. (3) Someone learning an instrument may want to play in a concert or jazz band, a string ensemble or perform solo in front of an audience. It seems to me that this requires more than musical talent and technical expertise. Likewise, the PWS wants more than fluency; he wants to communicate with others. He needs to appreciate the larger picture of effective communication. SLPs employed in multi-cultural settings also need to be sensitive to the different communication styles. (4)

Nonverbal communication is “body language.” A more encompassing, professional definition is “nonverbal communication includes those behaviors that are mutually recognized and socially shared codes and patterns with a focus on message meaning.” (1) Subtle and not-so-subtle behaviors communicate specific meanings to our listeners. A subtle raised eyebrow could indicate surprise. Hand waving could mean ‘Hi, I’m glad to see you.’ It depends on the situation, how these are combined with other gestures and perhaps what the speaker is also saying. PWS are sometimes extremely sensitive to the nonverbal signals being sent by listeners. They have seen "the look" so often, that they sometimes expect and percieve rejection from the subtlest of cues. Perhaps a greater understanding of nonverbal communication would help PWS gain a healthier, more resilianet perspective on listeners.

A narrow view of carry-over, one based on linguistic and speech-motor continuums, is unsatisfactory. The field of social pragmatics is within the scope of practice for SLPs and can be a part of speech therapy for stuttering.
(1) Cicca, A.H., Step, M., & Turkstra, L. (2003, Dec 16). Show me what you mean: Nonverbal communication theory and application. The ASHALeader, pp. 4-5, 34.
(2) Kowalski, Timothy (2006) http://www.socialpragmatics.com/
(3) Volden, J. (2002) Nonverbal Learning Disability: what the SLP Needs to Know
(4) Cheng, L.R. (2007), May 29) Codes and contexts: Exploring linguistic, cultural, and social intelligence. The ASHA Leader, 12(7), 8-9, 32-33.

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