My visitors today

Tuesday 12 May 2009

In a blink of an eye

"Facial expressions", me (on right) with Big Sis, 1961

Reading on the train

I first read about Jill Bolte Taylor in Time Magazine this time last year when she was one of the honourees in Time's "Top 100" issue for 2008. It was here that I discovered her wonderful book My stroke of insight. In which she describes experiencing a massive stroke at the age of 37.

Now here she was again in the " Top 100 Issue 2009", this time writing a report about another honouree, psychologist Paul Ekman.

I am sitting on the ICE train yet again as I read the short article. I really am beginning to wonder whether someone somewhere is putting relevant pieces of information into my hands just as I need them. Strangely, it usually occurs while I am riding on the ICE train!

Telling what she wants

Last week when I was working in the Kindergarten group, assisting two of the "Petö children" enjoy their lunches, I observed how all the children were behaving.

Some were very loud, calling out for second helpings, others were very quiet raising their hands as high as they could to get attention, others were only daring enough to raise just a finger to shoulder height, hoping that at some time soon they would be seen. All where moving eyes and lips and checks and heads in all directions at the same time as talking.

One of the children I was assisting doesn’t speak very much. Her tongue thrust makes what she does say difficult to understand. Sometimes, when for example she cries out "Me too!", her voice is really loud, but usually it is barely audible. In all the comings and goings of lunchtime, with fifteen children in the room to contend with, all moving chairs, clattering their knives and forks, and chatting to neighbours, this child looks for a alternative to speech as a means of communicating with me.

She uses her eyes, her mouth and movements of her head and hands to tell me what she wants.

Even as we try to spike a piece of stray potato with her fork I can feel her instructions through my hand, as she guides me instead to a piece of meat that we have on the end of the fork in the blink of an eye.

It is with a blink of an eye and a toss of her head that she indicates across the room to my colleague that she wishes to have her dessert. While eating this together it was a pleasure to feel and understand how she wanted to eat it. Not one word did she utter. I felt pressure from her fingers to guide my hand, and her facial expression and a shake of the head was enough to tell me that the cream from the strawberry cake was the best bit and therefore was to be left until last.
We really had a fun lunchtime and could ignore the hullabaloo around us.

Now back to the train!

As I said I am on the ICE train as I write this posting, on my way to visit a another young person, one who also has difficulties in making himself understood verbally. Of course everyone who has time can understand both these children, but who these days takes the time? The young man I am about to meet has also developed extra language facilities, one of them being his hands.

I am torn in half in this case because I know that, if he was to sit on his hands, he would speak more clearly, but he believes that he can express him more quickly if he sets his hands in motion.

So here I am gathering my thoughts together to write a posting on how my clients use languages other than speech. and I into my hands comes Jill Bolte Taylor and Paul Ekman in my, fresh-from-the-post box, Time Magazine.

Non-verbal communication

Paul Ekman is a psychologist who researches how the facial expression and gestures that we display on the surface are a direct reflection of what is going on in the "neurocircuitry" deep inside our brains.

I would perhaps express this differently. In my own words it is perhaps a reflection of what is going on deep in our souls.

Jill Bolte Taylor tells us that Paul Ekman has tuned the ability to read reactions that flicker across our faces into a "fine science".

I don’t know whether it is necessary for conductors to tune this ability into a science but it is an art that we all must learn. It is so important to be tuned into all the means that our children and adult clients have to communicate with us and the world.

One good example of this I have written about before. It is so apparent when I work with my adult clients. They talk with their eyes about their pain long before they will verbalise it.

The eyes are always the first place to look to see how my clients are doing. It is in the eyes that I will recognise the first signs of being at the end of energy levels or on the edge of their pain threshold, long before words are used.

My little girl at lunchtime last week used smiles and frowns, eye directions and tosses of her head, to communicate with me. Of course she is encouraged to communicate verbally with us but body language and facial expression are an extra bonus for those who find it extremely difficult to speak, and it is important that we as conductors get tuned in to it.


Jill Bolte Taylor -

Time Magazine -

May 11th 2009, "The Time 100" – Jill Bolt Taylor, neuroanatomist, introducing psychologist Paul Ekman.

Jill Bolte Taylor -
My stroke of insight, ISBN 978-0-340-98048-4, Hodder and Stroughton

Paul Ekman
Telling Lies, Emotions Revealed, Unmasking the Face, etc.

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