The Power of Gestures–Communication (Part 1)

The Power of Gestures—Communication (Part 1)
Fist bump? Shake hands? Big hugs? Hang-loose wave?
Families have greetings. Fraternities have handshakes. Teams have hand signals.
These are all versions of gestures– a powerful way to quickly communicate so much meaning in a short interaction. There are big gestures used to direct traffic and airplanes. There are little secretive gestures used to convey affections. There are colorful gestures to convey emotion and frustration. Gestures are all around us!
But what if your motor skills don’t allow you to gesture accurately or easily? Turns out your communication skills don’t quite match the others’ perceptions either.

  • Have you ever been misinterpreted due to body language?
  • Offered a too weak or too strong handshake?
  • Friends wonder why you’re so reserved?
  • Classmates wonder why you’re so over-excited, crazy all the time?
  • A parent is sad because their child won’t hug them?
  • We find that there is sometimes an overlooked aspect to these frustrations—the motor skills just don’t work. The inside emotions and thoughts don’t match the external body language and gestures because the movements haven’t developed yet.
    When do gestures develop? The foundation for development of gestures happens in several phases of infancy.

  • On Back: Eye-Head-Body coordination developed on the back playing with caregivers and toys.
  • Tummy time: Hand-arm-body coordination developed in months 3-6 in tummy time pushing up from the floor and exploring reaching
  • Baby Toes: Playing with baby toes! Not only is this a silly fun phase, it serves to link the various body parts with the focus of the visual system. Lots of brain development going on!
  • Pointing: In the world of social communication, pointing is the first milestone in purposeful social interaction. This often develops in months 10-12.
  • Why would these skills not develop? We find a myriad of reasons for the skills to be skipped.

  • Tummy time Discomfort: Babies born via C-section or spending time in NICU often do not like to be on their tummies.
  • Arm integration interrupted: Often babies born via C-section are pulled out by an arm. This disassociates the wonderfully woven motor skills at the shoulder creating a roadblock to symmetric development.
  • Head Integration interrupted: Born via C-section, torticollis, breathing support at birth, forceps/vacuum birth and wrapped umbilical cord are all stressors to complete vision-head-body development.
  • Boo-Boo’s: Nearly every curious child gets themselves into a situation that puts their head or upper body at risk of a bump. Some bumps are just enough to disrupt well-developing visual-head-arm-core function.
  • Infant/Childhood Medical Procedures or Surgery: The process of surgery—anesthesia, breathing support, IV’s, etc. are just enough for just long enough to throw finely tuned visual-motor development off.
  • But those were years ago! Even though these traumas may have happened years ago, the body is still affected. The body is amazing and seems to figure out work-arounds making the underlying gap hard to observe without specific assessment. We find all ages can have stress or dysfunction in the ease of gestures and it often tracks back to this early period of life.
    The body’s compensatory strategies allow you to move forward, but not at peak performance. Here’s how the subpar performance impacts function by age.

  • Young children: Gestures inhibit communication and language development.
  • Elementary age children: Writing, reading and math challenges
  • Teens: Visual-motor limitations affect participation in recreational activities and impact social skills.
  • Adults: Visual stress, social engagement challenges with their children, pain in hands/shoulder/neck.
  • Older Adults: Impacts self-care skills, communication and can relate to balance concerns.
  • For those who are interested in learning more about the link between gestures and learning, read some fascinating research here. Gesture as a window onto communicative abilities: Implications for diagnosis and intervention<>
    Next up One way we help our clients get back on track and eliminate challenges is to restore foundational movement transitions supporting gesturing. In my next post, we’ll look at how we assess and identify the root cause of the gesture challenges.